“Give Youth Day back to the youth”

Written by Petrus Malherbe, postgraduate student at the University of Stellenbosch journalism department

During last year’s Youth Day celebrations in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal, former Minister of Culture, Paul Mashatile, laid a wreath on the grave of Siphiwe Zuma. Siphiwe was once the president of the South African Student Congress.

He died in 2002 at the age of 23 in a motorcar accident.

In his short speech, Mashatile praised Siphiwe, saying that “it is an important day during which we should remember our fallen heroes from the struggle”.

I am sure Siphiwe was loved by his friends and family, but to single him out during official Youth Day celebrations because of his “role during the struggle” is nothing more than propaganda.

Youth Day is supposed to be a day to commemorate the heroic actions of all the students that died on 16 June 1976 and thereafter. Siphiwe wasn’t even born in 1976. He was barely ten years old when former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Siphiwe is as little a hero of the ‘struggle’ as I am.

Why do we no longer remember the youth on Youth Day? Why has this day become nothing less than a political playing field for politicians to only focus on fellow politicians and not on the actual youths of today that deserve special recognition?

It’s because politicians clearly forgot what the word ‘youth’ means. If you manage to pay attention next time during one of President Jacob Zuma’s dry Youth Day speeches, take note on who he is addressing it to. His propagation against everything from drugs to gangsterism and impossible promises of work, happiness and money for all is always aimed at ‘the youth of today’. But is that truly who the youth is?

The youth is certainly not every Tom, Dick and Harry under the age of 30. At 24 I am just as little a part of ‘the youth’ as my grandmother at 83.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘youth’ refers to the age between childhood and adulthood.

It most definitely does not refer to your average doping unemployed twenty-three year old.

Therefore I propose the following: give Youth Day back to the youth. Give it back to the young people, those in between ten and eighteen. Give it back to the kids.

Instead of organising massive gatherings where you preach and moan to young adults to drink and smoke less or to be less promiscuous, rather help the teenage population who also might just need your help now.

This can easily be done by teaching the youth skills they can use in their everyday lives. Teach them how a camera works, how to dance or how to catch a fish. Teach them horse riding. Teach them the importance of exercise, taking part in organised sport and learning the skills of healthy competition. The possibilities are endless.

Why lure a child with a plate of food for one day to attend a Youth Day rally? You are essentially bribing him. Why not make use of the age-old slogan: give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Formal education can only bring a person that far. Knowing the chemical composition of nitric acid is all good, but what about skills you can use in your everyday life?

Government should make better use of the weekends surrounding Youth Day. Workshops and get-togethers should be organised where groups of teenagers can come together and you can engage with them on their level.

If you preach to a teenager from a stage, they are not as inclined to listen to you. But if you speak to them on their level, chances are they might just hear and understand what you are trying to say.

If you tell teenagers what changes to expect if a girl should get pregnant and they fully grasp the consequences, it might just keep them from having sex irresponsibly.

So next time, remember: that twenty-three year old ‘youth’ is more than old enough to take care of his own life.

Rather turn the spotlight on the true youths of today and give Youth Day back to them. You might just be surprised what difference it can make.

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