Wednesday, June 15, 2011
16 June 1976
It took me a while to catch onto Twitter but once I had there was no going back. There’s a lot of rubbish to sift through but there are a few gems to be found. One tweet that has stuck in my mind is: “When was the last time the ANC Youth League did something for the youth?” Unfortunately I can’t credit the author of this tweet, although the question stuck, the pseudonym didn’t. With National Youth Day looming I thought it might be time to investigate.
The importance of National Youth Day rises and falls with the amount of media coverage there is leading up to the day. So some years it’s a braai day and others it’s a rare opportunity to reflect, awaken the activist in me and be thankful to the souls that have lead us democratic progress. 2011 is such a year, the mood is sombre. Perhaps it’s influenced by the ANC YL election conference or the accumulation of political events around the continent. Namely, North Africa’s regime change, Ivory Coast’s post- election trials and Zimbabwe’s deepening crisis.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial remains one of my best museum experiences. Besides the architectural glory; the carefully selected images, letters, audio and video snippets combine to reawaken the true meaning of June 16. It’s an emotional experience which may explain why South African youth often shy away from apartheid debates and recollections. To extend your imagination far enough to feel the pain, urgency, desperation and panic that led to the student uprisings is a task. Mike Marais wrote an eloquent paper which highlights that “By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become to some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensation”. I wish I’d paid more attention in English class because I aspire to have such an imagination; an imagination which allows me to sympathise and empathise with the youth of 1976 as if it were my own lived experience.
According to ANC YL constitution, the league “shall rally all the youth of our country to play an active part in the struggles of the community and the building and defense of democracy. In doing so, the ANC Youth League shall strive to achieve fundamental social change for the benefit of all young people”. Admirable but I struggle to align the modern ANC Youth League with my sentiments around youth day. News coverage is limited to Malema’s banter, calls for nationalisation and accusations of sabotage. I would really like an answer that illustrates the activities of the youth league in trying to strive for social change.
To elaborate on my first question: where is the vigour and spirit of the league when it comes to attacking unemployment, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, crime, education and healthcare? Where is the sympathetic imagination for SA’s youth? We are not at the mercy of an apartheid government but we have new battles that require deep analysis and understanding. We need strong, critical leaders that can ‘imagine’ the daily toils and take them on as their own. There is urgency for leaders that can motivate and create an environment in which our potential can be fully realised.