To the Youth of today: Let us not kill the spirit of World Cup unity
Last week we celebrated June 16 – Youth Day. It seems we may need to repeat an important message – in the spirit and commemoration of the brave youth of 1976, the youth of today need to become the driving forces of reconciliation and transformation in South Africa. Only now, youth face the continuing struggle of achieving a better life for all. At the same time, South African’s older generation should not abdicate their responsibility to be a part of these ongoing efforts for change.
Prospects for unity brought about by the World Cup soccer tournament are in the minds and hearts of many South Africans at the moment. It is also important to remember that Youth Day has always been a commemoration of the activism of young people of all races. Writing in the Cape Times on June 15, education specialist Graeme Bloch recalls the protest marches of 1976 led by University of Cape Town students: “…So too UCT students marched blindly off campus when they headed towards the Cape Flats. Over 120 white UCT students were detained. The court roll shows most were 17, 18, 19 years old, while the oldest about 23.”
However, having attended numerous June 16 events myself, in the days that follow I often wonder about the noticeable apathy towards this day, particularly among white youth. It should not be regarded as a racist code for questioning why other racial groups are not participating together with the others. This day should be for all young people of South Africa, irrespective of their racial background and we should all actively participate and contribute constructively to the national debates and dialogue, on this day and beyond.
Young people of all races today should also follow in the footsteps made by the youth of the 1970’s by ensuring that they play a critical role in the development of the country. In the 80’s, movements such as South African Youth Congress (SAYCO), initiated by Congress of South African Students (COSAS), focused on organizing the non-student and unemployed youth, with the goal of unifying and politicizing progressive young people irrespective of race. It adopted the Freedom Charter, pledged to work closely with COSATU, and was affiliated to the United Democratic Front (UDF).
The Cape Youth Congress (CAYCO) also brought together a number of youth community groups with the aim of mobilising the youth sector under the banner of the UDF. These movements persisted despite the challenges and threats to activism under apartheid, and remained unified irrespective of race.
Currently, unified movements of this kind seem imperceptible in democratic South Africa. Today’s youth are in disarray, and not sufficiently conscious of their commonality in race. The youth of today should not forget they are free because in the past, young people made great sacrifices for future generations – this freedom has, in turn, brought about many opportunities.
At the moment the World Cup has ignited a spirit of unity among all South Africans. Let us use this opportunity as young people and citizens of this country and unite for a better future for all. Let’s commit ourselves to pursuing a society based on a life lived in harmony with oneself, others and the world around us, and acknowledging and encouraging the active participation and contribution of the youth in general.
South African youth have never been silent, and have always been active in the life of this nation. Let us trust that youth activism will not end, but will evolve to address the current challenges of transformation and nation-building. It will be our failure if we do not demand explanations from our leaders because we, as young citizens, are discontented with the state of our education and healthcare systems, service delivery, and levels of employment and job creation. It is our role to push government to renew and strengthen interventions to address these problems. This all depends on how unified we, the youth, of today become to challenge for transformation.
Reflecting on Youth Day during the World Cup, it is clear that South African is united around our national soccer team and the hosting of this event overall – collectively, we have great strength as a country. Even in Uruguay’s defeat of Bafana Bafana on Youth Day, the gloomy mood that descended on the entire nation the following day showed our spirit of oneness even in defeat.
Questions can inevitably be asked about this phenomenon: is this sudden love for soccer just a matter of sweeping our differences under the carpet for foreign visitors? How far will our patriotic displays, as shown by all race groups during this tournament, go beyond the World Cup? Can we prolong this spirit and wave the flags of reconciliation and transformation, even after the end of the tournament?
Unless we commit to this collectively, we will miss an important opportunity to really make inroads into solving the challenges South Africa is confronted with today, together. There should be a demonstration that after 16 years of democracy, we did not only win the war against apartheid as a nation, but we can continue to work together for peace and reconciliation. Let’s use the inertia of the spirit of the World Cup to forge a unity of purpose to participate with one voice as the youth of South Africa. We have found a start, let us continue with it.
This article appeared in the Cape Times on 25 June.