A decade of smiles and frowns for South African Youth

Written by: Liza A. Mfana – Activate Freelance Writer

2010 saw the world gathering in South Africa for the FIFA world cup, the previous decade has indeed been memorable for South African youth. From the rise of young people in strategic industries to having 20-year olds in governance structures. This article reflects on the journey by the SA youth in the last decade. How far we’ve come and where we still need to go.

The introduction of Activate in 2011 was as a result of the dire situation that the youth of South Africa found themselves. A reality characterised by unemployment, deafening silence and hopelessness. It was through this program that many young people began to find their voice and were empowered not only to develop themselves, but their peers and communities as well. A decade later, we can give ourselves a pat on the back for the progress that has been made even though “not yet uhuru”, and the journey remains long.

This decade has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride for South African youth, with a series of ups and downs and high hurdles to jump. Despite all this, the positive moments have kept us going as a collective. The progress of our peers in major fields such as retail, finance and investments, entrepreneurship, art, governance and politics, has been a major victory for us. From witnessing young people in their early to mid-thirties flooding executive positions in major corporations, to our peers breaking into the art, film and entertainment industry, this decade has been filled with commendable milestones. Amongst the best highlights of the year, was the inclusion of twenty-year-olds in parliamentary lists, by the three major political parties of South Africa – African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This bold and progressive step, paving the way to having youth voices in legislative organs of governance. It is heart-warming to be able to switch to the national parliament channel and see your peers, fully active and reshaping the national discourse as Members of the National Assembly, National Council of Provinces and other related structures. A refreshing time to be alive indeed.

It might be comfortable for us to believe that the past decade was filled only with progress for the youth, but this is not entirely treu. It is during this decade that we have witnessed an unmanageable rise in the rate of youth unemployment. This has contributed very negatively to the quality of life for South African youth, especially those from impoverished backgrounds. It is during this decade that we have witnessed an unprecedented rise in crime, especially amongst impoverished communities and unemployed youth. This reality has left young people hopeless and without prospects of progressing, resulting in many ending up as victims to substance abuse. Our streets are filled with young people who once dreamt of a better life, young people who now find themselves confined to a life of handouts and a daily routine of asking for R2s just to get by. Our fore-bearers cannot have envisioned this when they advanced the battle for freedom. It cannot be their freedom, filled with poverty and death, death of the mind and of the body.

Young people rising to fight against unjust systematic issues in this decade. The #RhodesMustFall movement brought to the fore the ridiculous nature of apartheid monuments being maintained, in the country, and proved definitive in our history. It compelled us to grapple with systematic marginalization and oppression. This gave rise to the #FeesMustFall movement of 2015, rejecting the commodification of education as major hindrance to its access and thus the development of the country. The battle lasted on South African streets for almost three years, before state repression pushed activists into the shadows. The #TotalShutdown movement was to follow, led by young women who decided to take a stand against Gender Based Violence. Many other uprisings were pursued by the youth in this decade, and little has been achieved to alter the system and its exclusive policies. This is owed to the absence of governmental will to remedy the situation.

The reality is that this decade with all its smiles and frowns, has proven the foundation of the youth of South Africa finding our place in society. It will go down as the first time in the decades following the attainment of political liberty, where the country has felt the presence of its youth. These are the achievements of the so-called born free generation, and we look forward to what is to come as the millennial generation – ‘ama2000’ – rise to take their rightful place in history.

“The greatest asset of any nation is its youth, because it is the youth who are the embodiment of its future.”

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