Youth Day: Representing positive change

A day that ended so tragically 34 years ago in South Africa has come to represent positive change. Today, June 16 not only celebrates the defiance of the youth, but also their overwhelming influence on society.

The Mail & Guardian profiles three young South Africans in positions of leadership, and asks them what June 16 means to them, and about their thoughts on South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup.

Natasha Thandiwe Vally: born in March 1986
At the age of 24, Vally has just completed her master’s degree in South African history at the University of the Witwatersrand, and is currently working at the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project in Yeoville.

She was one of the founding members of the Palestine Solidarity (PSC) committee at Wits in 2005. The committee is a secular student organisation that forms part of the growing international campaign and call from Palestinians for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) of Israel.

“We have asserted that there are parallels between apartheid South Africa and Israel. The latter supported the former even when the rest of the world was boycotting, and Palestinians, like South Africans under apartheid, have their houses demolished, are forced to carry passes and face many other basic human rights violations, ” Vally told the Mail & Guardian.

The Wits PSC aims to create a political space on campus, where the interconnectedness of struggles and the fight for justice can be discussed and acted upon.

Asked what June 16 means to her, Vally had this to say: “June 16 means a great deal to me. The 1970s saw a rise in worker and youth struggles throughout the country. The formation and growth of independent trade unions and youth-organised and -led movements were critical to the eventual demise of apartheid. However, many of the things these workers and students fought for, including quality education and jobs, have not been achieved.”

She believes South Africans should commemorate the day for the important struggles fought for, many of which continue to be fought, but believes they should not be “commodified or treated as though the struggles that those who participated in and fought for are over”.

Vally is a “huge soccer fan” and loves watching a great match. However, she believes the World Cup “has and will only be detrimental to the majority of the people in this country. There has been expenditure on unnecessary stadiums and hollow promises of the ‘trickle down’ effect. Patriotism and endless flag-waving are what people are being sold as a means of placating them in a country that has one of the greatest disparities between rich and poor in the world.”

Adrian Loveland: born in 1980
Loveland started making his documentary about Johannesburg three years ago. He is currently finishing it up and printing it to DVD.

He said the idea came about “because I wanted to do something that harnessed my abilities, instead of always doing little things here and there that never amounted to anything in their disconnected form. I also wanted to try build a product that could become an asset, both as a sellable item and as something that could create a career for me.

“The other main reason was simply because Jo’burg had been driving me slightly crazy and stressing me out, so I wanted to try to create a project that would help me harness the bad energy and turn it into something beautiful,” he told the M&G.

“Jo’burg today compared with Jo’burg in the late 1980s and early 1990s may as well be a different planet. It’s been bursting at the seams for a while now, and I think what we’re seeing in 2010 is the release point. Hereafter the city will spill over, find some breathing space in the expanded parameters and then continue the growth,” he added.

As a young South African doccie maker, Loveland believes the responsibility right now “is simply to make any documentary with good intentions and perseverance, because whatever the outcome, as long as the films are finished, each one will play a role in helping us develop our national identity by documenting and exploring our country’s psyche and place in the world.”

For Loveland, June 16 is an important day to use as a reference point.

“It’s such a cliché to say that the youth is the future and should be nurtured, educated and cherished, but clichés are clichés because they are implicitly true and therefore repeated often.”

According to Loveland, South Africa has a long way to go before any sort of manageable stasis is reached. He believes it is today’s youngsters who will be leading us when they step into that space.

Loveland is optimistic about the Soccer World Cup.

“I think it’s awesome. I’ve loved every World Cup I’ve watched since I’ve been old enough, and I think it’s the most powerful event in existence, more than the Olympics. On a sporting level, psyche level, so many levels. It’s wonderful.”

“I’m just excited to be a Jo’burger right now.”

Itumeleng Khune: born in June 1987
Itumeleng Khune is making South Africa proud as goalkeeper for the national team. He started his soccer career as a defender in 1999, but was soon made goalkeeper when a youth coach noticed him diving for balls that missed the target while he was helping as a ball boy.

Khune was the first-choice goalkeeper in South Africa’s squad at the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, saving a penalty against Spanish star David Villa in the group stages.

He was also part of Bafana Bafana’s 2008 Africa Cup of Nations squad.

Khune believes the national squad has what it takes to do well in the finals.

“I think for us, it is important as the host country to go out there and win all the games. It will be nice if we have nine points, but we know the other countries won’t make it easy for us, but we have the advantage of our home supporters, those who will be blowing the vuvuzelas at the stadium. The whole nation is behind us.”

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