Where does Youth Day find its meaning in the year 2021? For South Africans who lived through experiences like the Soweto Uprising and now find themselves on the other side of democracy, it may appear that the gravity of the struggle is lost on the “born free” youth. It must be tempting to characterise this new generation of South Africans as entitled, apathetic and blinded by their privilege.
As the editors of Ukuzibuza.com – an online platform home to youth ideas, commentary and expression – we believe that to describe today’s youth in their entirety in this way gives a false impression. In the year since our inception in April 2020, we have seen firsthand that the youth are active; they have ideas to express and, more than anything, they want to engage. It is in this vein that we took over the Mail & Guardian Thought Leader pages in the Youth Day edition this week.
The M&G is synonymous with the more recent history of South Africa in that the progression of both have been built on significant voices expressing critically important, relevant and pressing ideas. The dire need for this in South African society remains, despite the fact that today’s youth face distinctly different issues. Indeed, it is often said that today’s youth find themselves in combat with a multi-headed monster – marginalisation and disempowerment in many unique forms in many unique spaces. Insofar as these injustices are multifaceted, so too should be the response to them. Time and time again, we are reminded of the power of independent journalism in creating public consciousness on neglected issues: the proud history of the M&G a case in point. That is why this partnership, on Youth Day 2021, is so valuable – because it marks the merging of the twin goals of platforming young voices with diverse societal experiences and reinforcing our young democracy’s insistence on never again repeating the wrongs of its past, in whatever shape or form that might be.
In saying this, we have not, and will not position ourselves as the sole voice of the youth. Truthfully, we are not. Our platform is one that provides unique perspectives and individual opinions. Our job – and no doubt the job of the M&G – is to curate and edit those perspectives. Yet curation implies selection, inclusion implies exclusion, and platforming implies omission. We consider ourselves fortunate to be having our voices heard through this platform, because we know all too well that still there exists a barrier of entry for youth expression. This barrier of entry treads far too closely on the lines of privilege, socioeconomics and identity.
To disingenuously misrepresent the youth – or any sector of society for that matter – is as, or even more, harmful than to exclude them altogether. Our collective emphasis must shift to not only provide young voices a seat at the table, but to ensure that they have all that they need to engage on a level playing field.
To envision a future for South Africa without the perspective of the youth would have been impossible in 1976, and we submit that it is impossible now, not because we wish to create a false equivalency in our experiences, but because our year’s worth of experience in facilitating a space for youth expression has shown us that young South Africans can more than hold their own, they are dismantling the false dichotomy that exists between “young” and “adult” issues, and they ought to have a space to add to our ever-evolving sociopolitical discourse. Ukuzibuza, in partnership with the M&G, aims to foster such a space.
If you are a young South African reading this who wishes to make their voice heard, we encourage you to submit writing responding to the prompt “who are you?” here.