Writer: Nana Futshane
[“It was sad to see them there, although I knew that they were responsible for being there, I also felt that society was also responsible in a way. It totally wasn’t normal for young people to be involved in crime and to know how to use drugs. Where were the parents, where were the aunts and uncles and the neighbours?”]
[“It also isn’t easy to rehabilitate someone. It has to come from them, because no matter how much potential I can see in someone, if they don’t want to change then that’s the most difficult part.”]
[“There are a lot of challenges, like people not taking you seriously, and others treating you as an inferior because you’re not South African. I learned to hide my feelings even when I got really offended by some people’s comments.”]
The struggle continues. In honour of the youth of 1976, we salute young activists who are turning the struggles faced by today’s youth into triumphs.
Unemployment, poverty and crime are among the struggles that young people worldwide are battling. Hate crimes against our fellow Africans are an increasingly common form of oppression in the new South Africa. Two modern-day freedom fighters are grabbing the bull by the horns to fight for a better tomorrow eMzansti.
Tarisai Mchuchu Rashidi
In 2006, Tarisai, a law student at the time at the University of Cape Town (UCT), was visiting Pollsmoor Prison when she was touched by the sight of young people, some her age, locked up for various crimes. “It was sad to see them there, although I knew that they were responsible for being there, I also felt that society was also responsible in a way. It totally wasn’t normal for young people to be involved in crime and to know how to use drugs. Where were the parents, where were the aunts and uncles and the neighbours?” She became the director of Young in Prison (YIP) in 2009 at the age of 23.
Founded in 2002, YIP is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that supports young people, aged 14-25, who are imprisoned, by offering art and educational workshops as means of rehabilitation. Though YIP believes that young people don’t belong in prison, they also believe that while imprisoned, young people should have the right to positively develop themselves. By doing this work, YIP provides young prisoners with skills that will aid them in reintegration in society after they are released. They also have a post-release program. Since its beginnings, YIP has grown, with offices now in South Africa, Columbia and Suriname.
Trials and Tribulations
Working within the prison system hasn’t been a bed of roses for Tarisai and the staff at YIP. “Prisons are government property, and prisoners as well are owned by the government for the time they’re there. We still have to make sure, even to this day, that we don’t offend the government when we’re there doing programs. It also isn’t easy to rehabilitate someone. It has to come from them, because no matter how much potential I can see in someone, if they don’t want to change then that’s the most difficult part,” she says.
Asked about Youth Day and the struggle for youth today, she says it is all about remembrance. “If we could remember those who died in order for us to get the kind of opportunities we’re getting and not letting them go to waste, then we can really say we’re winning the fight against any form of oppression.”
28-year-old Tinashe is passionate about social issues. A member of a several civil society initiatives, including People’s Health Movement, the Democratic Left Front and Soundz of da South artist collective, he is also an administrator for Right2Know (a campaign opposed to the Protection of Information Bill – also known as the Secrecy Bill – currently before the South African parliament). An activist, a freedom fighter and a crusader, this soft spoken gentleman doesn’t come across as the courageous person that Live discovered him to be.
In The Wilderness
When Tinashe first came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in 2008, the xenophobic attacks began. ‘I didn’t even know anyone here but I felt the need to fight for social justice as [what was happening] affected me directly,” he said. “This was very difficult because I didn’t know how to approach South Africans. I didn’t know who my enemies were and who my friends were.”
He joined an organisation called Get-Up-Stand-Up, a group of South Africans and African immigrants in Khayelitsha (Cape Town), who are out to stop xenophobia and unite Africa. He says he joined because he needed to inform South Africans about foreigners, as he saw that people didn’t understand why foreigners are here. “Some of them think we are here to invade their country, steal their jobs and their women, but that is not the case.”
Fearing for his life, his aunt begged him to stop his activism, but he refused. “I was already here and I couldn’t go back home because the situation didn’t allow me to,” he said, referring to the dangers faced by Zimbabweans back home.
Tinashe continues to organise groups of locals and foreigners to form sports teams, and also facilitates anti-xenophobia workshops in Khayelitsha. “There are a lot of challenges, like people not taking you seriously, and others treating you as an inferior because you’re not South African. I learned to hide my feelings even when I got really offended by some people’s comments,” he said.
Individuals like these two young people surely have a passion for what they’re doing, and even though their chosen vocations are not easy, they are determined to succeed. Their efforts show that we are still on the long walk to freedom, but also that we shouldn’t give up. As uTata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela once said, “Never, and never again shall it be that one would experience oppression and discrimination by another.”