The month of June we celebrate the youth spirit that has, in all of us, existed at some point or another. At any stage, at any age, in our lives, we can always evoke this spirit to mete out change. When we are young we see clearly what common sense has gifted all of us with though we may lack insight because that comes with access to knowledge and with time. At the high noon of our youth we become rebellious to what we have come to call the ‘system’. The system is simply socially structured obstacles to common progress upheld and sometimes engineered by the state. This is the part of the system the youth are interested in anyway. The youth simplify these things. Adults are all kinds of strange, so the youth feel. The complacency of adults frustrates the youth because to them it is clear that there is something wrong with the world. That urgency is required to fix their world. The innocence of youth sees not the need to negotiate with evil and naively believes righteousness always wins the day. The idealism of the young! You have never felt more alive than when fighting for an idea that is true. Anything becomes possible. This idealism, the passion that fuels it, has carried many a successful revolution.
By the twilight of our youth the system has beaten us into safe spaces and compromised ideologies, to keep the peace, to quieten the destructive scream of rebellion. But it has not all been in vain. We have made our mark. Changed the social landscape somehow. Our children will grow up in a slightly different world. And so it goes.
The rebelliousness of youth is simply unsustainable, but is necessary when the times call for it. So much of life is about the simple things, like waking up to music and happy chatter outside your window, and paying your bills. So much of life is about finding love and acceptance, finding family. So much of life is about consensus. The strife over ideology can be too much for our fragile existence. It should be left to drunken midnight debates where alcohol sweetens the ugly truth, making us feel we have contributed to progress just by burping the beauty of our persuasions. We wake up in the morning and get back to reality, a hangover echoing its disapproval of last night.
The youth are blessed with the absence of the burden of responsibility, a recklessness they are not aware of. A recklessness that at times threatens their very lives. Woeful be those who birthed them. The youth are the ideas we have given birth to. For new ideas are necessary for progress, but birthing an idea is painful, and the responsibility of nourishing one, enormous. This, the youth learn as they grow older too.
To celebrate the youth spirit that makes us do the extra ordinary is not the same as celebrating a day our children unknowingly put themselves in the line of fire. Year after year I keep hoping that, out of all the days in June, the 16th will be anti-celebration and more commemorative, a day of reflection and mourning.
There are many challenges facing our youth today. I must confess it was with tears in my eyes that I watched the peaceful procession of a 10 000 strong youth in 2011, lead by Malema to the Union buildings. They walked some 30 kilometers into the night. It was heartbreaking to watch. My heart was bursting with pride, and breaking at the same time. Because I knew how this historic moment would be trivialized in the media. Malema was a problematic leader, this precious moment would be lost in the media’s vulture-like obsession with Malema’s shortcomings, of which he had plenty.
So we saw respected cartoonist Zapiro summing up this moment as the zombification of the youth by Malema.
Malema is the only leader the youth had, the only leader who spoke their language. The language of rebellion against an unjust system. A system that consistently is going against common sense. Common sense being that if you want to achieve equality give people equal opportunities. Common sense being that only justice can bring peace. His recklessness burst the self-imposed silence over their issues, and his misogyny and love of sparkly things they could live with. In an already misogynistic and unequal society like ours, it was easy, whether they agreed with it or not. The beauty of being young is that life gives you ample opportunities to swallow your words. And so I hoped Malema would swallow some of his words, would go back on some of his actions, because there was truth in his passion. Alas, there was not enough space for him and his ego in our collective consciousness. That is why it was so easy for him to be nullified in active politics without much protest from us.
Who will lead the youth? Who is worthy? The voice of Malema lingers.
Article first published in Sowetan, 5 June, 2013