SA’s youth are crying out for truly transformative change

#FeesMustFall protest at the Union Buildings. (Oupa Nkosi)

#FeesMustFall protest at the Union Buildings. (Oupa Nkosi)

Post-apartheid South Africa held many positive promises for the future, and none so pertinent as the promise of a nonracial society that would heal the divides of centuries of racial oppression.

There was a strong belief that centuries of crimes committed against millions of people could be forgiven and that we as South Africans would collectively begin the journey into a post-racial society.

The Convention for a Democratic South Africa’s negotiated settlement was seen as a miracle and the collective effort to put together our 1996 Constitution was seen as a victory for democracy and the beginning of what would be an equal and fair society. The parents of this generation, tired of instability, conflict and the potential of civil war, celebrated this “new” reality and began integrating themselves and their children in what was supposed to be a new ­system and structure of post-apartheid South Africa.

As time went by and things changed for the better, we began to realise that the more things changed the more they stayed the same.

The youth of post-apartheid South Africa began to understand that one cannot forgive and forget so easily, especially when it comes to a group of people who do not entirely accept blame for the crimes committed or acknowledge the privilege they obtained during that time.

We began to realise that we cannot achieve a post-racial society without first achieving a post-racist society.

Young people’s actions at universities, in public and on social media are a reflection of this new understanding and a rejection of the ­current reality. It is a rejection of a society in which 39% of black African people are unemployed compared with 8.3% of white people.

A reality in which 45% of white people deny that apartheid wrongly oppressed black people and was a crime against humanity.
And a reality in which white families earn six times more than black families.

The anger of black students and young black people comes from a total rejection of the perpetuation of apartheid’s economic, physical and social structures, and the messages from movements such as #RhodesMustFall and #TransformWits, and the protests at the University of Cape Town, the Tshwane University of Technology and others are clear.

If there is not a serious effort to redress the crimes of the past, if there are no opportunities for young people, if there is not a conscious effort to go beyond rhetoric to bring about an economic, social and a physical reality that is representative of the country’s demographics and African roots, then surely it cannot be expected that this young generation will have an interest in ­preserving any of it.

The violence and fire we see on campuses is a representation of the pain felt in the heart of millions of young people – and it won’t stop. It’s only a matter of time until its spreads to all young people.

South Africa is at a crossroads and it’s every South African’s responsibility to ensure we take the right turn.

Let us begin a more authentic path to equality, fairness and growth by committing ourselves to building a South Africa that truly seeks to address the crimes of the past and create a socially, economically and structurally just society.

As Dante said, the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

  Kanelo Pitso is the director of the Young Lab Association

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