#YouthinHumanities_Reset or “Read More”?:The Question of the Value of Youth

Posted on June 12, 2024

It is Youth Month, and once again South African society turns its gaze towards us. What comes across to many as a celebration of the power of my cohort, their contribution to society and the future of our country, instead blasts its way through our minds as an assessment of some sort. We are reminded of the extraordinary efforts of the youth of ‘76, their mobilisation and sacrifice, fighting against a system of oppression that was eating away at the future they hoped for themselves. Comparisons are made and we are branded as apathetic, a few “the youth today are so...!” statements are thrown around, and we quickly feel the gaze take its true form as the annual re-evaluation of our place and value in society. The “youth of today” are often seen as an out of touch, lazy, hypersensitive and ungrateful bunch who do not appreciate the freedom they enjoy. 

The truth is, the youth of today are a very different group of people compared to the youth of ‘76. We represent a much larger and more diverse cohort. Youth Month celebrates the resistance efforts of black youth in townships who resisted a very specific system of oppression. South African youth today, however, encompasses black, white, Indian, and coloured individuals, and all manner of sexualities, gender expressions and identities. These groups of youth navigate a South Africa with intersectional oppression, the legacy of Apartheid, marginalising ageism and economic disempowerment. This context hails the youth as the custodians of the future and yet has no faith in the youth’s ability to chart the path towards that very future. Despite the challenges, despite lacking resources and political power, the youth today continue to resist in all the spaces they occupy where they have any ounce of power or influence. They march and protest for free education; they mobilise across continents for the rights of oppressed minorities globally; they start youth movements to foster acceptance and change narratives surrounding the naturalisation of the hegemony of cis-heterosexual patriarchal capitalist existence. Despite all their efforts, they are still not heard or seen. It is a marvel whenever young people are given a platform to speak, let alone influence political decisions. Our value and the contributions we make in South Africa as young people are often only recognised when we agree with the dominant political position or episteme. The youth of ‘76 are celebrated, and rightly so, as heroes who bravely added their voices to the struggle of the people, but one wonders how much of the veneration they are afforded is due to their struggle coinciding with that of the larger older cohort. Political legitimacy for the youth is afforded to us only when we do not disagree with dominant narratives on societal issues. Youth Month this year comes at a time when political parties are fighting harder than ever to co-opt the youth into their political agendas. It comes at a time when the youth are growing increasingly upset at the world they are to inherit. Youth Month then becomes a reminder that what is celebrated about us is not our power to change or radically envision a new world, a new future.
 

Instead, we are valued for our potential to inherit and continue the work of those that came before us, and we belong to the older generation insofar as we are the vessels for the manifestation of their legacy. 

 

-Anathi Nkomonye is a Senior Political Science Student & Vice Chairperson, House Humanities.

 

 
 
- Author Anathi Nkomonye

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