Talking about the Constitution

Put a group of Johannesburg youths on Constitution Hill each Saturday to talk about democracy and the conversation goes large

The day that changed my life
Amit Dayabhai
It was a Saturday morning when I woke up to the worst news possible. My tears fell like rain and I fell to the ground, depressed, speechless and angry. Angry with the world.

Why me? An innocent nine-year-old boy. My mummy was taken away from me. Cancer was the culprit. Everybody except me knew that the end was coming. I always thought she would get better. The flame inside me died because I lost the most important person in my life.

Everybody was with me that day, the day after and even a month later but after that it was only me and my dad. This made me realise that in life—despite all the people around you—you still stand alone and have to depend on yourself.

Fortunately for me, my father was motivated and had a positive mindset. He spoke to my mom a lot during her last days about how he would have to raise me alone. During their last few months together he learned how to cook and iron to ensure we would manage without a woman in the house.

It was back then that I first experienced dirty family politics. When I look back, I remember the hypocrites that exist in society who act like they care just to show others how good they are. At a special occasion they run behind you while people are watching and ask if you ate properly and put on an award-winning performance staged for the community. But they forget if you are starving the other 364 days in the year. Even more ridiculous is when they tried to split me and my father apart during the time that we needed each other the most.

This is my story but it’s the same with our South African story, especially now at election time.

“My brothers and sisters —” they preach. Please. Where were the politicians when a child sat with no education? Or when another struggled, but persevered to pass matric by candlelight?

Now they want to give us their promises? Now we see bright T-shirts with impressive words handed out to supporters. What about that same person who was wearing rags and plastic for all the years before? Well, I suppose Christmas comes every five years in our country. All we need to do is hope we elect the right Santa.

When my mom was around, I was her tail. I wasn’t that close to my dad. At times we saw his retrenchment (that happened soon after we found out about my mom’s cancer) as a blessing in disguise. It gave us time to bond.

After my mom died all we had was each another. We talked about everything. We didn’t even need counselling because of our good communication.

My mom taught me many lessons. The one that is very important to me is independence. At the end my mom managed to pay for the medical bills herself. We didn’t want to be obligated to anybody.

My dad taught me how to cook, iron and wash. Now that he is getting old I am able to assist him. We share the work and strengthen our bond.

It has been six years. I have experienced a lot of hardship but I have learned many lessons.

During my travels and pilgrimages I have met many people and I’ve realised that there is always someone in a worse situation than you. My mindset, positivity and determination have led to my success. Things would have not been the same if I had given up that Saturday morning.

This is my story. But every individual counts. I feel that if people can motivate themselves and those around them, then we can overcome challenges as the youth, as South Africa and as the world.

Amit Dayabhai is 16 and lives in Lenasia. He is in grade 11 at Shree Bharat Sharda Mandir

A life lived in secret
Clement Scholtz
I grew up in a very big Christian family. My cousins and I all lived and played together at my grandmother’s big farmhouse at the Vaal. Like all other boys I used to play soccer, climb trees and occasionally play with the girls. As I grew older, I spent more time around girls and enjoyed dressing up their dolls. My parents always warned about this and would sometimes beat me and force me to play with the boys but I’d always go back.

When I started school, I noticed that there were many other boys like me. I made friends with them and we were teased. We were called moffies and sissies and asked the colour of our panties.

In church the pastor would talk about the sin of being gay and what an embarrassment gays were to the community. He said we were possessed by a demonic evil spirit. Even my parents picked on me and called me all kinds of names and asked where they got a son such as me.

As I grew older, I met more gay friends. Some of them were openly gay and were accepted by their parents. Others had girlfriends and secretly dated gays, but most of us left home as straight guys and would change when we were far enough away. Even though I enjoyed their company, I didn’t want to be called gay. My gay friends tried to hook me up but it didn’t work out; I wasn’t ready. They didn’t like this and our friendship slowly faded.

At school there was a group of four gay guys who wore skirts, wigs and loads of make-up.

I always wished I could join them, but was too afraid of what people would say. One day I was walking down the corridor and they approached and asked me to meet them after school. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t go.

When they tried to talk to me after that, I walked away. Soon they started spreading lies about me and called me a coward. I cried almost every day. I wanted to prove them wrong so I started hanging out with straight boys and soon I played soccer, dated girls and talked about beautiful cars, girls and their assets.

I had many people fooled, believing that I was the straight guy they expected me to be. I knew my parents wouldn’t accept me as a homosexual. I heard how badly my mother would talk about them.

I have stopped hanging with gay friends, but I still do communicate with a few on MXit and Thunderbolt. But I wish I could stop hiding and just be who I am without anyone discriminating against me. I wish I could be like other gay guys, find a partner and just be accepted. I didn’t choose to be gay. I was born the way I am.

I recently came across an article in which Jacob Zuma spoke about how he doesn’t support same-sex marriages, about how they are against his culture and traditions as a Zulu man. It seems that the people who are supposed to be protecting us from discrimination are the very people who are discriminating against us. Like women have a Women’s Month and 16 Days of Activism, we also need a Gay Pride Month and 16 Days—or more—of activism against homosexual abuse. We are ordinary citizens who should enjoy equal rights and freedom.

Clement Scholtz is 19. He has been part of Democracy Begins in Conversation for the past three years and starts media studies at Rosebank College in February

A tale of two cities
David Nhako wa Modupi
Last year I visited New York. I was charmed by the way people seemed to be free from fear of crime. They walked around with laptops and cameras in their hands, taking pictures of high buildings. Night and day, tourists seemed to be relaxed because no one threatened to rob them.

Every morning I travelled by subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan to attend workshops and talk to other students from around the world as a representative of South Africa and our group, Democracy Begins in Conversation. Later, in the evening, I would travel back to Brooklyn. On the train, no matter how crowded it always was, I saw people busy on their laptops. And no one threatened to rob them. I sometimes imagined what Jozi would look like if it was more like New York.

In the workshops I attended, we had panel discussions with people from different walks of life. We discussed issues like development, poverty and crime.

The Americans talked about how crime affected them, yet ironically I viewed New York City as a paradise, the fantasy world which many of us here in South Africa still dream about.

The crime Americans seem to allude to was relationships between African Americans and the cops, much of which had to do with drugs.

Welcome to Jozi, the City of Gold. Here things are different. Every day is merry Christmas while fraud, bribery, drugs, robbery and death lurk at every corner. Here in Jozi you can never walk with your laptop in your arm across Quartz and Pretoria, via Claim and Twist streets in Hillbrow. You can never walk freely with your camera or cellphone from Jeppestown to downtown and across Mandela bridge, via Braamfontein to Hillbrow, passing to Yeoville via Berea, without the fear of being robbed.

I have been the victim of robbery. I was deprived of my cellphone on Mandela bridge, one of the crime hot spots in the city. Every day when I go to school, I walk from Yeoville to Vrededorp, north of the Braamfontein train station.

Now I walk like a tsotsi and when I meet tsotsis on my way I speak tsotsi taal to them and they leave me. This is how I survive in Jozi. So you see? Jozi is not like New York.

I’ve heard that there will be a number of cops and increased security around the country in preparation for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Here in Jozi they have started installing security cameras. But I wonder if this is going to be just for the World Cup.

It would not only make me happy and proud of my country if the people are protected, it will also be a success for South Africa.

I’m looking forward to seeing Jozi—my Jo’burg—as a clean and crime-free city, maybe just a bit more like New York.

David Nhako wa Modupi is a grade 12 learner at New Nation School. He lives in Yeoville

The audacity to vote
Mbuso Ice Ngubane
It’s hard to live up to the legacy that the youth of 1976 have left for me. I’ve tried hard to identify a political organisation that truly represents my generation: a party that sees the youth at close range and projects a true reflection of democracy and upholds the Constitution of this country.

I’m faced with a huge responsibility. How does one decide which party must govern this country for the next five years?
I find myself in the middle of political confusion, as the three main parties seem to be more concerned with power than they are with providing opportunities that could better our lives.

The question is, which party truly represents the youth?

You have the DA, but I really don’t know who the youth leader in that party is, or even if it has one. He or she seems to be invisible. Or you have Anele Mda, the youth leader from the Congress of the People, who allegedly rejected her HIV sister when she was in need. Those actions don’t portray a positive image. Leaders are supposed to inspire the youth, not discriminate and mislead.

Then you have Julius Malema from the ANC who hardly focuses on youth issues and seems to generalise his views and speaks without thinking. He gives the impression that the youth of South Africa are violent. Having people such as Malema representing us is totally not cool, at all! I feel misrepresented by all of them.

Last year, at the end of September, I was one of the young people chosen to represent our project in New York City, at a conference called Performing the World 2008. It was during Obamamania and it was so inspiring to see the youth excited by the prospect of change. It gave them the audacity to vote and I was inspired by their desire to become part of creating that change taking place in the United States.

As a young South African with dreams of owning your own business, with no financial support from family or friends, Umsobomvu is advertised as a great option for assisting the youth.

One friend of mine from Soweto, Bulelani Nedoboni, had a dream of starting an internet café. She followed every application requirement, had a good business plan, but her dream was discouraged by the very people who were supposed to help her.

She was asked if she owned any property worth R50 000 or if she had someone who would be liable if her business did not prosper. Bulelani lives with her single mother who runs an informal tuck shop in their backyard that only meets the needs of the family. The spaza makes less than R300 a day. She is fresh out of school and unemployed. How is she supposed to have assets worth R50 000?

Umsobomvu is no different from any bank. It has almost the same interest rate and hardly advises any alternatives for young people such as Bulelani who have no assets to put up.

Yet again I ask, why is it called Youth Fund if it caters only for youth whose parents can afford Umsobomvu’s preconditions?

It’s programmes such as this that makes me ask: what gives these parties the audacity to be voted for?

Mbuso Ice Ngubane is a student with Democracy Begins in Conversation and founder and co-host of Radio Con Hill. He is 18

Democracy begins in conversation
The Democracy Begins in Conversation project is an innovative educational programme that brings together more than 60 young people from different backgrounds across Johannesburg for a voluntary all-day Saturday school at Constitution Hill.

Each week, the group explores the Constitution through a different lens: tackling difficult issues such as crime and punishment, xenophobia, abortion, prostitution and human trafficking and corruption.

Working with artistic expression, play and performance, the youth create dialogue with community leaders, civil society actors and political and struggle elders including George Bizos, Arthur Chaskalson, Yvonne Mokgoro and Dikgang Moseneke. Their conversations with them form the basis of the DBIC radio show Radio Con Hill, which is supported by Radio Today (AM 1485).

Using participatory and collaborative learning, the group integrates democratic and constitutional literacy with artistic and cultural literacy.

The DBIC also runs training workshops for teachers, NGOs and the private sector on collaborative and creative approaches in the classroom and workplace.

The DBIC was started in 2005 by the Living Together Institute, with the support of Constitution Hill.

For more information about the Democracy Begins in Conversation contact Betsi Pendry on

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