Nearly 40 years ago young black South Africans decided that they were gatvol with Bantu Education being forced down their throats by the National party government and you know what they did? They took to the streets in an iconic protest march that we now commemorate on June 16.
They saw a problem, which, at the time, was being forced to learn in Afrikaans and instead of letting their fear of the apartheid government get the best of them, they used what they had – their feet and voices – and marched through the streets of Soweto to voice their displeasure.
It’s hard to imagine something like that happening today. Part of the reason is because our struggles are different but also, times have changed. You are more likely to find young people using hashtags, signing online petitions that you are to find them toyi-toying in the streets – well, unless if they are members of the EFF or something.
Whereas the youth of 1976 were rigorous in their efforts to overcome the laws imposed by them; laws which sought to exclude them from the privileges that came with knowledge, of education really, the youth of today don’t relate to each other or politics, for that matter, at least not as a collective. Although, they show enthusiasm for national pride and patriotism, their citizenship ends there.
Which brings me to the point of this article. Afrobarometer recently released a survey that tracked how engaged our young people have been with civic matters over a decade. What they found was that although young people were patriotic and optimistic about national cohesion, very few of them engaged in civic matters.
Afrobarometer, the non-partisan research network active in more than 30 African countries, found that roughly 26 percent of 18-35 year olds were active members of a civic organisation like a church, political party or volunteer group.
They also found that this number, as low as it is, given that just over 60 percent of the population is made up of young people, has declined since 2000 when the percentage peaked at 46 percent.
Interest in religion also dwindled with only 10 percent of youngsters showing an affinity for religion. Those who do show a vested interest in community organisations, or who go to church regularly are but a handful.
“Such students are just too deep,” Marvin Adams, a 19-year-old Wits student said about students who join campus-based organisations like the ANC youth league (ANCYL), or run for SRC president.
“My friends and I would rather spend our precious time chilling on the lawns, smoking some good weed or Hookah, than going around campus approaching people to spread God’s word or dish out flyers.”
So, will the rhetoric of a unified South Africa, of superb patriotism, and of recognition of government’s efforts in respect to promoting a unified nation eventually amount to a liberal, racial-free society? The obvious answers is no, because as we have seen throughout history and certainly these days, there’s a big difference between young people identifying as South African and actually partaking in activities that help shape the national discourse.
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