/ 14 June 2020

The system in South Africa has its knee on the neck of the youth

Academic agenda: University of Cape Town students express their views about fees
Academic agenda: University of Cape Town students express their views about fees

As we remember the heroic contribution to the course of freedom by the youth of 1976 I see it befitting for the youth of today to reflect on the journey travelled thus far and what lies ahead.

George Floyd was recently murdered by a white police officer in the United States. The officer pinned him to the ground. Kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. This was an incident that sparked protests in the US, Spain, Brazil, Nigeria and in many other parts of the world. Floyd’s words “I can’t breathe” have struck such a profound chord in us.

The senseless killing of Floyd should never be understood to be an isolated incidence. Instead, it must be interpreted to be a result of structural racism, systematic exclusion and subjugation perpetrated against black people. All over the world.  

The system in South Africa has its knee on the neck of the youth. In 2015 the Fees Must Fall and the Rhodes Must Fall movements tabled our generational claims. We called for the decommodification of higher education. We called for people’s education for people’s power, “African problems deserve African solutions”. We called for free decolonised education. We called for the fall of patriarchy, gender-based violence, racism and white supremacy.

The government is led by black people who refuse to be black. Instead of backing our demands they jailed young people, expelled them and destroyed many careers of capable young men and women who were in a forefront of struggle. As the system continues to have its knee on our necks, we too cannot breathe.

As I write this perspective, I have spent one year and four months under house detention that is to end by the year 2022. I am banned from participating in politics. I have a criminal record, which could render me unemployable even though I possess multiple qualifications. All because I took part in protests with those who refuse to betray our generational mission. Sitting here I can confirm that I cannot breathe.

In our beloved continent of Africa a corruption pandemic is on the rise. Africa is under leaders who don’t have the interest of the people at heart. Africa is rich with coveted natural resources, yet its people languish in poverty. It has underdeveloped infrastructure and survives on small unsustainable economies. Africa continues to be a spectator to global politics, economies and decisions. Foreign superpowers have had their knee for centuries on our beloved continent of Africa. They continue to do so.   

I believe that we have a responsibility to not only learn from the generation of 1976 but also draw from them courage, strength, resilience and a sense of purpose.  Instead of debating among ourselves as to who orchestrated the June 16 uprising between the Black Consciousness Movement, the Pan Africanist Congress and the ANC, we ought to give proper analysis of the bold and courageous action by that generation to formulate and advance ours.

It was a generation that was prepared to die for their convictions. And they did. We should ask ourselves some questions: Are we prepared to die for our ideals and beliefs? If yes, then what became our immediate contribution to a course of struggle for human advancement in Africa?

Young people must begin to understand that they are not leaders of tomorrow but of today. We are capable, we just need to only believe in ourselves. As the system continues to have its knee on our necks it is our responsibility to act against it.

The very system is responsible for the state of fear that young black people live under. It is therefore important to confront the system that serves as the source of our nervous condition.

We must begin to redefine our self-image and eliminate fear from our minds. Completely.  As Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko so cogently put it: “We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and brotherhood (sisterhood). In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible — a more human face.”

As we recommit to our moral obligation to struggle. we ought to keep our shoulders squared, with our chests out and heads held up higher. Be fearless. If you cannot beat fear then do it scared. For the repositioning of Africa to her former glory lies upon our shoulders.