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Editorial: We owe it to our youth to listen

Oh, the youth of 2021. Many people say they don’t care, and are apathetic about the future of this country. That is not true. What is true is that the elders are not listening. Are you listening?

Today’s youth are at the forefront of fighting climate change, fighting for free education, and creating pockets through which they support each other in entrepreneurship and side-hustling. This is something that the older generation may not understand, but the fight is different for every generation. 

In the past month, Mail & Guardian has been interacting with several young people from various backgrounds. They wanted to launch a podcast on which they have discussions with industry leaders and address issues from the perspective of the youth. As a result, Ask Yourself was launched on Youth Day by M&G Listen.

During this interaction with young people, we listened to their perspectives and what they wanted to engage with. They wanted to discuss why today’s youth are not celebrated and supported, because 16 June focuses so heavily on the past. They wanted to talk about the future of protest and art and mental-health issues — and equality. 

This does not seem like a youth that is not engaged; that is apathetic. On the contrary, it seems like young people have no space to be heard.

Look at the most recent protests at universities for free education, decolonising our education system and creating equitable spaces for everyone. These are people who are begging to be given a space and an ear. 

In 1976, when the youth took to the streets, they were shot, killed, traumatised, detained and some young people simply disappeared. They were fighting for a different future to their current oppression and dehumanisation — through learning. The youth of today are also begging for a different future to the present they are shackled in. 

As elders, we are so entranced with the weight of the problems of a country and an economy that won’t grow, the financial burdens that come with a broken state, and rotten political haze that we don’t have the time to listen. 

In listening, we begin to imagine a brighter future that is not constrained by our own broken past and aspirations. We begin to guide the leaders of tomorrow by educating them: not just about a past they have no place in or can’t relate to, but also about the lessons that will make their journey easier, so they can run further and achieve much more than we have.

This can happen only by giving them representation in all spheres: government, civil society and everyday home life. 

We don’t have an issue of an apathetic youth. We have an issue of older people: hurt, disillusioned, angry and corrupt, hogging a space that belongs to the youth who want to change our course. Let’s listen.

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