“You just don’t understand.” That is the mantra that I have been hearing from my elders of late…that I don’t understand. Wait a minute here- is it not the youth who are supposed to accuse the hardened fossils of failing to sympathise and empathise? Are we not the ones who are supposed to bemoan the aloofness of our parents and not the other way around? There’s obviously some sort of disconnect because it just does not add up.
I took it upon myself to find out exactly what it is that I don’t understand. Which, in fact, I think is a whole lot of hogwash because I deem myself pretty intelligent and “with it” so the mere notion of me missing the point baffles me to say the least! As I delved into the darkness of my ignorance I have realized that it has nothing to do with being techno savvy or being able to keep up with the latest trends on the stock market- it is indeed something so simple and uncomplicated that I am ashamed that it never really dawned to me until quite recently.
My newly acquired knowledge opened my eyes to the apathy of my generation (born roughly between 1978 and 1987)- the silent killer of hope and the source of my elders’ wails. Gone is the liberation struggle and the once bright lights of their heroes (save the Madibas and Tutus of this world) are now dimming. I was horrified to find out that one of my good friends thought that Chief Albert Luthuli died “sometime after our liberation, didn’t he?”
Some peers even have the audacity to roll their eyes when the Apartheid years are mentioned and don’t understand why people just don’t “get over it.” Sadly, our parents still look upon those days poignantly- the fear and frustration of living under inhumane oppression, the helplessness and anger of not being in control of your own life but what really sticks our in their minds is the camaraderie and hope of a better future.
See, every oppressed young person who cared about having a worthwhile future back “in the old days” had a purpose in life- a dream which started becoming reality on 24 April 1994.
One of my favourite stories that my father told me was how I was named. He says that my name came to him in a dream- not unlike Joseph. In this dream, he was instructed to name me Kholofelo (a traditionally feminine Sepedi name) whether I am a girl or a boy. Kholofelo means hope. Hope of a better future and that the daily prayer of my people will one day be answered.
The consciousness of our parents permeated into the very names that they gave us. These “African” names were purposefully given to us- if not in a quest to defy the system then in an attempt to reclaim their stolen dignity and to endow pride and identity upon their offspring. The very names which we then change from Lerato to Lira and Nonhlanhla to Noni just so we don’t offend mainstream culture even though African languages are the most widely spoken this country.
OK, fine, we are the “Gen-Xers”, the “Lost Generation” the “Latch-key kids” and the “M-TV Generation” among a slew of other names that have been duly bestowed upon us. It’s all good and well to be categorised and put in boxes but let that not be an excuse for us to be a generation of losers. The whole world is panicking about the aging population and the skills and leaders that are going to elude us within the next fifteen years. Yet it doest not seem to bother us because it is not our fault. There are many social challenges which we are very quick to point out as not our fault- that may be true but they are definitely our problem.
We might not have an Apartheid Regime to dismantle but we are faced with the HIV/ AIDS endemic which is claiming our lives in droves- 50% South Africa’s youth aged 16-24 are infected with the virus and for the most part, it is our fault. The majority of us might not be tear-gassed on our way to school and work but we are all affected by crime and the majority of the perpetrators do actually fall into our age group so we have to own that too. Some of us might not have to still travel 10 kilometres to the nearest source of fresh water but we are all now faced with a power crisis that threatens the very ability of our country to develop and thus ensure that nobody is without food, water, electricity and shelter. Instead of sitting around, whining and threatening to leave the country we should be researching feasible and sustainable solutions and frankly cashing in where the establishment has failed to act.
Undeniably, our generation’s biggest challenge is to show that Africa and more specifically South Africa can. The majority of countries on our “Dark Continent” (literally) are celebrating more than four decades of freedom from their former Colonial powers. The fourth wave of democratic elections is raising its head, ready to ripple through this land. In many instances civil war and debilitating indebtedness is ebbing away- some African countries are for the first time experiencing positive economic growth and exporting more than just raw materials. We are far from paradise but with more resolve, dedication, and focus, we can right ourselves on future history books as an influential force in global affairs.
In order for us to tackle this tremendous responsibility of catapulting our nation (and subsequently continent) into prosperity, we need to stop disassociating ourselves with our government and institutions. The constituents of South Africa are responsible for endowing power upon our leaders and should therefore shoulder their triumphs and disgraces. We also have the power to question dubious policies and ultimately remove the pariahs from their duties. Gone are the days of lackadaisical attitudes and sunny cotton fields- unless if we treat every societal, economic, and political ill as a crisis, we will continue to wait with bated breath for some-one to do something at our own detriment.
We are the indulged generation and epitomize “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Our lack of patriotism and commitment sees us flocking to the North for “greener pastures” as quickly as we change our mates and jobs. It is this very mindset that will cripple our local economy because of the capital flight and in this instance it is our skills that will be missed. This is our time to shine, let us prove the Baby Boomers who are just waiting for us to prove them right. Let us follow in the footsteps of people like Mark Zuckerberg and make what we know best work for us. As Ralph Waldo Emerson aptly puts it: “What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen."