My first interview was with Themba, an old man in his fifties who works as a security guard, a very old-fashioned old man, just what I was looking for.
“You kids of today have no respect for your elders. Back in my time you wouldn’t find 14-year-old kids in prison,13-year-old girls with babies,” he said when I asked him the difference between the youth of his time and the youth of my time. He said these words pointing fingers at me, his face so serious.
Then he continued. “You kids today don’t even care who is watching when you are doing embarrassing things. Us, we used to hide ourselves from our parents when we knew that what we are doing is wrong; but you kids…” he muttered, shaking his head. I wondered what he meant by “embarrassing things”.
“Sometimes you see a very young girl caring for a baby. It is obvious it’s hers. While you are still shocked by that, she takes out a cigarette and starts smoking. That is the youth of today,” he said before I could ask what he meant.
Wanting to hear a woman’s point of view, I found a lovely, tidy and neatly dressed lady. Rita, in her 40s, is a manager of a building.
“Youth of your time and my time? Salt and pepper,” she said, responding to the same questions. “They are total opposites. The youth of today is nothing but mayhem. You kids today, you don’t stand up for older people to sit, you swear at your parents… I mean we don’t even know when are going to put a knife on us or pull a gun on us. We as parents don’t trust the youth of these days.”
I was so shocked to hear that these people think these things of us. But also I found it almost funny, because in my heart I know we’re not really that bad.
Wanting to find someone my age to speak for us, I was walking down Main Road in Salt River when I saw a girl caring for a baby. Her name was Rasheel, aged 17. She had that look of forcing herself to be beautiful, wearing a short mini-skirt and showing a lot. Explaining what the old man had said, I asked for her side of the story.
“Old people are so quick on pointing fingers at us, saying we are this and that, saying we are the lost generation. But what I know is when a follower is lost, we don’t point fingers at the ground, we point fingers at the leader. Monkey see, monkey do,” she said.
Poetry aside, I needed her to explain more, put on the green light. “Everything we are doing we saw our elders doing, we didn’t invent any of it. Don’t forget that we were raised by victims of the apartheid system. Those are the ones that made us victims of abuse. This is the outcome of being raised by angry victims of apartheid.”
This girl was so deeply angry, she got my heart beating fast. Needing a not-so-angry teenager to slow this fast-beating heart of mine, my target was the students. I headed to the Salt River train station, where I noticed a girl in a uniform standing with other students. I liked her attitude, her voice so loud you could hear her speaking from far.
“Yeah, they’re right, but at the same time they’re wrong,” Thabisa, aged 16, said when I described what people had said so far. “The majority of the youth is disrespectful. But not all of us are like that,” Thabisa said.
“Even back in their time not all of them were good. When we think about the youth of the 70s, we think of the freedom fighters, but deep down in my soul I know that not all of them were freedom fighters. Same goes for us: they need to look at the kids that are making use of this democracy the good way.
“Look at me, not pregnant and still going to school. Is that bad or good?” she was saying as she turned and screamed to her friends, “HiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiGH FiiiiiiiiiiiVE!!”
Since the older people I interviewed made it clear that they see the youth of today as nothing but trouble, I wanted see if I could find an older person with a different view. I went to the school at the Brooklyn Chest Hospital where I interviewed Evelyn, a 57-year-old teacher, who has worked with young people with cancer and tuberculosis for nearly 15 years.
“As youth of the 70s, we were told what to do. We were always doing what our parents were telling us to do. We couldn’t say, ‘But I don’t want it this way, I want it that way.’ Now you as the youth of today, you are given choices,” Evelyn said.
Her comment left a question mark on my mind. Was it good or bad that the youth of today can choose what they want?
“It is not bad at all! It is a good thing to listen to what the youth want to do before telling them what you think they should do. As a teacher I enjoy it when my students put something I said to a debate,” she said, glancing at the photos of her students hanging on the wall and smiling with pride.
I told her about my other interviews and the answers I got from people her age. “Maybe those people had bad experiences of the youth. Not all kids are like that. They should say some kids are bad, we can even do a test to prove that. We can go to prisons and count how many of the youth is in jail, go around SA and count how many young girls are with babies. Then go to schools and workplaces and count how many of them are without babies, how many are still at school and working hard. I am sure you will find that there is few percentage of the them that is trouble,” she said.
So what did I find? The youth of today is going through tough challenges, and parents must understand that. The parents are facing difficult issues and stressing a lot too, and the youth must understand that. They must not judge each other, they must support each other, we are all humans so we make mistakes now and then.
Writer: Xolisa Pezisa