On Tuesday, 23rd June #eNCALive’s Dianne Hawker and Erin Bates had an in-studio discussion with digital creative and womanist and feminist blogger Owethu Makhatini and VIP’s Head of Content Lee Molefi. As we near the end of youth month, we wrap up our thoughts on our theme – State of South African Youth.
I’m slowly growing fatigued by the disingenuous conversations around youth issues, mostly because of the expiration date stamped on many of the conversations we’ve been having through the whole month of June. Please don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that youth issues are being put under the spotlight, but why only in June?
Lee Molefi mentioned in the discussion, that youth issues are so broad and that we simply can’t discuss them all in just one month, it would take us months, maybe even years to fully discuss the scope and extent of the issues young people in South Africa face on a daily basis, from race, gender, sexuality, culture, economics, etc. Young people are not a homogeneous group and we cannot look at them in that light.
Considering the fact that young people are the largest demographic in South Africa, it’s quite redundant to try pigeonhole issues we are all facing, as a country – from unemployment and lack of access to quality education, to poverty and crime – and make them seem like they only affect the youth.
Owethu Makhatini mentioned that framing things as youth issues is problematic because we’re placing agency on young people that are structurally unable to contribute in the ways they need to.
To open up the discussion, Dianne asked if there was a point to youth month or if we were simply doing the same thing and whether we were missing something fundamental in these discussions.
Owethu answered by saying that “we’re having the same kinds of discussions, which means we’ll have the same kinds of answers”.
I agree with Owethu that we are having the same conversations, with the same kind of people, expecting someone to say something different so we can finally do something to change the state of young people.
As if framing our conversations as youth issues and discussing them in the same way over and over, isn’t problematic enough.
Many of the people who are involved in these discussions, like this very eNCAlive one which was being live-streamed on the enca.com, are privileged enough to express the issues they face well enough to garner understanding.
People like us are equipped with the language to talk about our issues, which is great but then what about those who aren’t as privileged?
Owethu highlighted the importance of checking one’s privilege, something we’ve been seeing lately especially online.
She said she is constantly checking her privilege. Having gone to one of the most prestigious universities in Africa, she admits to her privileges and the fact that she is able to engage in certain conversations and articulate her opinions around the state of South African youth because of this privilege. Owethu described the conflict that many young people face, “You want to outdo centuries of oppression but you’re also talking pictures with your iPhone.”
Those of us who have access to platforms like LiveVIP or eNCA, are seen to be representing the entire youth. We set the agenda – what we talk about, when, how and with who – and this is quite problematic.
I cannot speak for all young people. I understand that because of the access and privileges that I have I do have a responsibility to my fellow young people to represent them but how do I do that when considering how different our experiences are, I can’t necessarily relate to all young people.
Owethu suggested that we need to change and interrogate ourselves as well as the change we want to see.
With regard to the critical question of who takes part in the conversation, Lee suggested that there be more platforms for more young people to engage in discussions around our story, in order to come up with solutions to our problems.
There’s a tendency for interventions to our problems, like youth unemployment, not being drawn up by young people. The National Youth Policy is pure in intention and good on paper but it doesn’t speak to people it needs to speak to.
In closing, Dianne asked if we should be waiting for the government?
I believe the answer to this is no, we shouldn’t wait for the government because it takes away our own agency.
As much as we understand the role the government plays, we refuse to be passive, and allow the government to lead the conversation and speak on our behalf when we are here, we are engaged and we can lead our own conversation well into the next month and the next…
Join the conversation, tweet us your thoughts on the state of South African youth @LiveVIPZA