Opinion: Youth Day – Why South African youth are still fighting

By Penny Mkhize

As we pause to celebrate the spirit of the young of South Africa on Youth Day this June 16 we must remember many of them are suffering in the scary, uncertain, world of COVID-19 with the same underlying iniquities that drove them to rebellion in 1976.  

June looked promising with the prospect of parole from lockdown with the hope of returning to normal in 21 days. It was a risk in this global pandemic; the trends in other countries in lockdown stood as a warning.

Yet, at this time , we must look back in sorrow at the damage of COVID-19 and consider how much it will hurt the youth of South Africa. 

Around half of South African companies will go to the wall in the post COVID-19  world – whatever that will look like – and millions of jobs will disappear with them. 

The youth were struggling to find jobs long before the lockdown in a shaky economy . 

You could argue the grandchildren of the young bloods of Soweto have more opportunities without the pass laws and police that haunted their forebears; yet how much opportunity will any have in an economy that is unable to absorb them? 

Then there is the question of online schooling for children at home in the lockdown. Not everyone has fibre and an expensive laptop with which to do this. If ever the pandemic exposed, cruelly, the gulf between the haves and have nots – this was it. 

On top of this, how do you study, or even social distance or work from home when you live with your parents and ten other family members in a four-room house? That dreadful feeling of knowing you falling behind in everything, be it school work or working for a company, must be soul destroying. It is  a struggle for many of the young that persists 44 years after the Soweto uprising.

This struggle takes a toll on the mind as well as the body. We saw an increase in mental health conditions in this pandemic as the youth navigated the uncertainty of the future amidst an academic year turned upside down. Many are seen as the future breadwinners in their families and this responsibility, along with the uncertainty, must have weighed on their shoulders like lead. 

Even those who managed to hang onto their jobs, lost income and cowered down as they saw people around them struggling to scrape together money for bread. 

This is the reality of our youth. The fight for survival both in the mind and the harsh reality of the streets.

It was a cruel, if unintended, irony that COVID-19 saw soldiers back on the streets of Soweto to enforce the lockdown. It brought back bitter memories of how soldiers once kept the youth in line through the barrel of the gun.
But the relentless, brave and undying spirit of our 1976 youth has stood the test of time and the pain of oppression to survive. 

The youth is fighting to  live and be heard. We witnessed this indomitable spirit in this pandemic that descended like a heavy cloud on poor communities already struggling.

In those difficult days the youth rose to make their voices heard through sharing information and sparking debates on social media by posting vital information on the pandemic. They also raised their voices to government about the high unemployment rate, concerns about their living conditions and the disrupted academic year. 

It is safe to say that we are going to make it through this pandemic and that we are all in together. When we say God bless South Africa and her people, it is a declaration of survival. We cannot and will not fail as a people; remember this on Youth Day and be proud of our young.

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