Making Youth Day count

Photo from Wikipedia showing Hector Peterson being carried away after being shot with his sister running besides him.

The young spirit enters the room and proclaims “I would like to go now, I am ready to depart to earth.”

“OK, where you would you like to go? Do you want to be Caucasian, African, American, African American, Europian, Asian – have you thought about this? Do you want to be male or female? Do you want to be born with a silver spoon or do you want to learn from an early age what it means to work for what you want? Do you want to be Catholic, Christian, Jewish or Muslim? Young spirit, there is a lot to be considered. Are you sure you know exactly what you want?”

“I just want to be loved” and with this the little spirit is sent down to earth to start his life.

I guess life would have been very different if we were given the choices before we were born. The reality is that we don’t. No child asks to be born into this world. No child asks for a certain set of circumstances to be bestowed on him or her. Children don’t have a choice. It is by our doing that they are here. It is their right to be loved and cared for. It is our responsibility to do just that.

Tomorrow we will be remembering Youth Day in South Africa. The events of 16 June 1976 are another tragic reminder of the Apartheid legacy and how far we have come as a nation. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if we are still failing the youth.

In early 1976 the South African Government introduced a law which they have been working on for some 2 years. The law stipulated that native languages in segregated school were only to be used in religious and music studies. For all other subjects the medium of instruction was to be Afrikaans. Naturally this did not sit well with the community and in Soweto children started to strike – they simply refused to attend school. The morning of 16 June 1976 saw some 20 000 school children embark on a march to Orlando Stadium in Soweto to voice their unhappiness with the new law. At some point the crowd became too rowdy for the liking of one police officer and he fired a warning shot into the air. Chaos ensued. Children panicked and started running. The police retaliated with more gun shots, teargas and releasing their dogs on the crowd. One of the first victims to die was Hector Peterson, only 13 years old. The number of people who died is sketchy to this die. Government claims that there were 23 fatalities, but some sources say that as many as 700 succumbed to their wounds.

Mother tongue education, the very thing they fought for, is now a reality in our country. Sadly that does not mean that the youth have won yet.

For the sake of this post, private schooling will be excluded. Private schooling is something that every parent would love to give his child, but for the majority of us it is nothing but a dream. Our Department of Education can unfortunately simply not cope with the number of children who need to be educated. In Luke’s class we have 38 children to 1 teacher. A recent investigate reporting program on SABC showed classrooms with as many as 132 children per class. Apart from that, we have the issue of text book delivery – last year it took almost 9 months for some schools to receive their text books. How are children supposed to study with no books? Corruption and greed means that our children are still being cheated.

Our youth asks nothing other than to be loved, to be fed and to be taught. I am sad to say that we are failing the youth.

The moral fiber of our society is such that unemployment, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and rape are at the order of the day. Our children grows up with the knowledge that the world is an evil place and you have to do what you have to do –regardless of who gets hurt in the process – to get what you want.

In 1976 the government was to blame for failing the youth.

In 2013 we too are to blame for failing the youth.

Yes, we can blame government for not building more schools. Yes, we can blame government for not providing the necessary text books on time. But are we blameless? It is time for some serious self-examination – time to look at the example we show to our children. Do we teach them to honor, love and respect or do we teach them that it’s each man to himself.

A child with the right set of moral values, a child with respect and love for his fellow people, is a child that will excel no matter what the circumstances are.

Take the day tomorrow and look at how you treat the children around you. What do they see when they look up to you? How you treat a child today shows him what kind of adult to be. Make this Youth Day count. Let the deaths of Hector Peterson and his fellow students not be in vain.

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