Remembering a traumatic past is often, to most people, difficult. Looking for answers to today’s vexing problems in that traumatic past can take people to emotional and intellectual, even spiritual places they don’t often go. To strive for fairness and equality today, then, by confronting the past of racism and colonialism is always going to raise temperatures. What is going on at University of Cape Town regarding the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in light of this is hardly surprising. In this video, which speaks about what students and staff at Rhodes University think about their institution being named after the same colonialist, there are traces of the same frustration and anger felt at the University of Cape Town. What are the implications of all this? Will this end with Rhodes, or are South Africans showing signs of confronting their colonial past…?
Anecdotally at least, many of the instances of alleged racism appearing in the media seem to involve young people, between the ages of 18 and 35 years old. Take the recent fracas reported from Wits University where a young black student laid a complaint against another student who apparently mocked a lecturer’s pronunciation of English words and, when challenged, conducted a verbal assault – using racial epithets – on the complainant.
There is no simple approach to defining and understanding the complexity of racism. What is universally appreciated though, is that behaviour that leaves one person or group feeling discriminated against is the proverbial smoke suggesting there must be a fire somewhere.
How did we get to this point when so many young people are being drawn into the ugliness that is racism, discrimination, or just plain bullying on the basis of some or other set of perceptions? Is it unreasonable to believe that the old divisions that kept the older generation apart are yet to be rolled back? Similarly, can we assume that these old divisions and animosities are now being laid on the shoulders of young people by their parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and their entrenched institutions? Finally, if this is so, are we being reasonable to assert that if this continues, future generations will continue to be imprisoned in behaviour that does nothing to put a fractured nation, splintered societies back together again? This is precisely when we need to become something of a shadow of what we were when we arrived, clothed in rainbow colours, on the international stage, led by the great Nelson Mandela. Are we prepared to, in return for an illusion of power and authority, send the next generation into a sort of exile from each other?
A lost generation of young heroes fought for a freedom from all the separation we see around us today – Ashley Kriel among them. This is surely not what they gave their lives for.
What remains, and must be done is for the young generation today, to stand guard at the bridge separating the past from the future, to decide who and what crosses that bridge. Let us leave hate, spitefulness, empty rhetoric, and the twisted dwarfishness of superiority and inferiority behind – even if we have to take steps to understand what the past means. Understanding it does not mean we have to live it. Let us, the young people of today, appreciate past malevolence but never succumb to it. That is the mission we should set ourselves. The next generation demands it. What will be left otherwise? Another generation who cannot feel the freedom of equality and fairness; friendship and togetherness. Is this really what we want? If not, the cause of the future calls us to throw off the shackles that have been laid on our shoulders.
This is what Ashley Kriel fought for – it’s what we owe him, and those young women and men who fought and died alongside him.
Mark Peach, Researcher at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
Being part of the Ashley Kriel Youth Leadership Development Project was an absolutely amazing, life changing experience from the exposure to the different people, to the issues discussed.
The theme of the Project for 2014 is ‘Freedom to Create Change’. Now that we as South Africans have freedom in South Africa it is our responsibility to continually ask ourselves what the ways are in which we create change and in so doing improve the lives of others? Another topic of discussion was “Freedom and Reconciliation”, discussing how we reconcile with one another. South Africa is characterised by great inequality, unemployment, particularly among the youth, changing leadership dynamics and perceptions towards current leadership. When dealing with reconciliation we have to revisit and reflect on the past, so as to reconcile. After having revisited the past and reflecting on how those events have shaped us, we had to reconcile the past and the present. It is only then that we can begin to talk about reconciliation among South Africans. Some participants were of the opinion that we are unable to reconcile whilst there is still material inequality.
We as the Youth stand to confront contemporary issues we are faced with. We have to set aside racial differences. We therefore had to come up together, different in race and colour, to build South Africa.
Prior to my involvement with the Ashley Kriel Youth leadership Development Project I had never been in such a space before. Being around like-minded young people of different backgrounds and identities, each one bringing in his/her own story, his/her own plan for change and reconciliation in South Africa. The zeal and passion of the facilitators and the participants is what made the project so powerful. The hospitability of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation is something indescribable. With this project I was introduced to a brave new world. A world of intense, structured and meaningful dialogue that gets one fired up to go and make a change.
Through the various workshop sessions and engagements with fellow participants I had to confront difficult things. I have had to interact and work with people I never thought I would have worked with. In so doing I have learned to try to be objective in my judgement and critique and fair in my decisions.
I can proudly say I have grown immensely in terms of advancing my own thinking, dialogue, communication and team work. After this Project I am highly motivated to lead myself so as to lead others. To live as an example and a servant of my people. I feel I have a huge responsibility not only towards myself but towards the masses, the nation. I am taking this and going with it.
I knew my skin tone when I was born in 1987, but that is what it was…only a skin tone. There was no cultural or political meaning sewed into the pores of my skin. I attended a crèche where only three children were darker than white. I was the lighter skin toned amongst the three. The other children treated us differently but I never understood why.
My primary school was a more racially mixed environment than my crèche. The politics of race was more visible, but it was not realised completely in our interactions. There were some social taboos which were never spoken but seemed like a universal truth at the time. For instance, you should not have a crush on a person from outside your ethnic and religious background. These values came from the students’ homes and got reinforced by not breaking the ‘tradition’ on the school grounds. Still, I was quite blind from the full meaning of race in South Africa.
Within the first week of my high school career I was confronted with the question, “What are you?” It was not a question asking who I was as a person, but rather objectifying my physical credentials. My response at the time seems so innocent, “I am human.” Yet they made me feel guilty by crudely correcting me with, “Are you Indian or Malay?” Since I have never been confronted by this question before, I did not know how to answer. When I arrived home I asked my father whether I am Indian or Malay. He told me that he was Indian and that my mother was Cape Malay. Arriving at school the next day I answered their question proudly. However, they did not act too kindly to my response that I was mixed-race. They walked away from me in disgust, as if I was some abomination…as if I was some sin.
I went to an Islamic private school, which the predominant student population was Indian and Cape Malay. Since I was 50/50 of the two ethnic groups I was never completely accepted by both ethnic groups. I had to hide my other ethnic half in order to fit with whichever ethnic group I needed to at the time. It was only after two years that I managed to gain friends who saw such notions of racial discrimination as nonsensical. Still, I felt stifled by the racism I experienced between these two ethnic groups. Even though all the students and all the teachers (except one) were of the same religion they focused more so at their racial differences. It was the implicit details of racism that struck me. It felt strange to confront who I am through the lens of my skin tone.
It has been many years since the days of high school, and I have had other experiences at other institutions of racial discrimination. But that high school experience turned my skin into part of my identity. Before then, it was never part of my self-construction of who I am, but since then my mixed-race has placed me into the depths of not just who I am but where I am.
Shu’eib Hassen, 25
As I write this, I’m having a drink with my colleague Nick Owsley, a graduate with an Honours Degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Cape Town. With Human Rights Day approaching I can’t help but think how fortunate our generation is. A mere 18 years ago, in South Africa it was regarded as breaking the law for a black person to have a drink with a white person in many watering holes – how far we have come since then.Thankfully all that has changed ad with this change democracy has done away with the old and has breathed new beginnings. South Africans now have equal rights and equal opportunities.
As a young person, what excites me most about democracy is the fact that the opportunities for young people to craft better lifestyles for themselves are enormous. What’s even better is the fact that they are open to everyone, regardless of colour, creed or other qualifying factors. Everywhere you turn, new programmes and projects are being implemented to uplift young people.
Sadly, the truth is that many of our young people who need these opportunities the most often do not know of their existence.
Lazy or Misinformed? I am of the belief that I am one of many youths that has been able to access a slice of the opportunities that came with the advent of democracy. Because of this I now find myself educated and employed. Sadly though, it’s a different case for many of my peers. I often find myself pondering about the challenges they face on daily basis, as young South Africans without jobs, skills or education.
In the past when I reflected on such matters, I invariably came to the conclusion that the reason behind their status quo is that many of them are simply just lazy or reluctant to look for opportunities or take on other alternatives. Or perhaps they are waiting for manna from heaven (government).
It was only after I went home for my university holidays that I changed my assumption. Upon my arrival I bumped into an old friend of mine I schooled with named Ali. Unlike me, Ali completed his matric with flying colours.
Although he did well in matric, I was rather shocked to learn that he was sitting at home, unable to continue with his studies due to financial instability. My knowledge of Ali’s financial challenges made me empathise with him initially, however my empathy was soon replaced by exasperation. Did Ali not know that there were a lot of programmes and bursaries available to help people like him? Surely he must have known about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa (NSFAS) or about the Vodacom bursary scheme or the SACTWU bursary fund?
In truth, Ali was clueless that such programmes even exist. And he is not the only one. Studies show that 8 out of 10 young people in SA (especially in the rural areas) are unaware about the available opportunities and programmes provided by the government, corporates and other stakeholders to assist them where necessary.
Surely something must be going wrong, and it can’t just be ignorance. It’s more than that. Why is this vital information not filtering through to those who need it the most?
Information is key
An article by Wendy McMillan and Robert Barrie reveals that most students from rural areas have to rely on other students who experienced university to access information, including assistance in applying and registering. The data also showed that knowledge about university access is severely lacking in rural areas.
“I didn’t know about bursaries or something like that so that you can go to university,” explained one student when interviewed.
For someone who grew up in the underdeveloped province of Limpopo, I would agree that accessing information as well as a general lack of information is a major concern in rural areas. Not only is it difficult to access, sometimes it just never reaches the intended audience.
Lack of skills and resources
Information on how they can better their lives is crucial to the development of rural communities, but there are many barriers faced in terms of accessing this information. Some of these include access to internet, libraries, electricity, telecommunication, utilities, roads and transportation, low level of literacy, lack of proper information services, technical competencies and much more.
Although some communities in South Africa have these resources, poor infrastructure can hinder access to them for many. For instance, some people have to travel long distances to reach these services (i.e. libraries, clinics, internet café etc.).
Skills shortages also contribute to this dilemma. Although there are some communities with access to resources for information, this often does not resolve anything because they don’t have the skills to use those resources. Many people can’t operate the computer or make use of the internet, training is in short supply and thus these resources fail to serve the very communities they were supposed to be assisting. In addition, the skills that many who are fortunate enough to attend tertiary institutions are taught often do not meet the needs of the job market for which they are being prepared.
Where to from here?
Fortunately all is not doom and gloom, there is a way to improve information dissemination and make sure people (rural or otherwise) are aware of the opportunities available to them.
Firstly, libraries and information centres should develop their collections, facilities and services to meet the information needs of their patrons. To achieve this, the government and its organizations need to carefully and thoroughly understand information needs, ways people seek information, information services and information systems. Furthermore, it is important that the government understands the purpose for which information is required, the environment where the user operates, sources and channels preferred for acquiring information.
In a paper on rural development, Manir Abdullahi Kamba of Bayero University Kano in Nigeria says that it should be a priority to educate communities to know the importance of information that is relevant to their immediate activities. He adds that harnessing information resources for development can only be achieved when the community values information, such that they are ready to seek and use information in solving daily activities regardless of the distance, format or medium in which the information is available.
As for skills shortage, according to an article on skills.oecd, education and training systems need to intimately understand the demand for skills and the drivers of changes in skills demand. Furthermore, employers need to work with education and training systems to provide that information and design training that meets their practical needs.
I am excited about a new project from Fetola (www.fetola.co.za ) called GAP, the Graduate Asset Programme. GAP is aimed at growing the SME sector in South Africa. By helping place thousands of capable and willing unemployed graduates into internships, GAP will assist the host businesses to gain much-needed skills and the graduates to gain valuable experiential learning. In this way both parties benefit.
Programmes run through the NYDA (National Youth Development Agency) are also looking at ways to address critical skills shortages. One example is the Accelerated Artisans and Skills Training Programme. After going through an assessment, a young person can either undergo electrical, plumbing, boiler making, welding, bricklaying, carpentry, forklift, computer programming or air conditioning and refrigeration training. In addition, to increase the trainee’s chances of securing work opportunities, the programme also includes life skills and job preparedness training.
I firmly believe the youth of South Africa have enormous opportunities. It is a matter of implementing new strategies of sending out information and ensuring that it reaches its designation, ensuring that the information is well understood and not misinterpreted in any way. This also includes promoting and implementing active programs that can address skills shortages and actively provide training (on the job experience), particularly in areas and industries that lack capable human resources the most.
By Abram Molelemane
Firstly, it’s only fair that I mention my definition goes beyond that of a tone that creeps out of your vocal chords and out through your mouth. Many do not have the blessing to hear that tone, let alone produce something of that nature. In order to have a voice, you need to not only know who you are but accept and embrace that identity because it is only then that you are able to become “the voice” of those who cannot “speak” or those who do but are not heard because of their voice…who they are.
A couple of years ago, I stepped into a country within a country: Stellenbosch. For many reasons, I left my voice to remain quiet until a time it could truly speak and be heard. I arrived in a world where the dominance of an Afrikaner ideology was still a reality and where you would call in an English accent and get a flat, but lose that flat after the first meeting simply because you were black; a town where most people cannot even speak the universal language of English and one who is trying to save a language and a culture but killing a nation.
I am one of those people who chose to keep quiet but at the beginning of this year, African hawkers, who to me had become Stellenbosch, where shut down by the municipal office from selling their merchandise to the many foreign tourists who invade Stellenbosch. More than that, while many sit watching the sunset on their wine farms, they shut down the livelihood of the people who had chosen peace and hard work rather than the life of crime and violence, those who had thought they had found refuge, hope and a means to survive in a country they thought was their sister. How do we keep quiet as the richer get richer and take away from the poor and the poor get poorer? How less violent and destructive are we when we take the livelihoods of innocent people rather than regulate?
I am a South African, a proud African but I am first and foremost human and for that reason my voice is not mine alone, my voice is our story, that of humanity and what we South Africans would call Ubuntu and somewhere in between the context and the depth of that concept, you will find me comfortably tucked alongside nation. The concept of Ubuntu is that umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. It is the acceptance of the fact that we are all human, equal and most of all interconnected. We are one. However, until we truly grasp that concept, we remain in the constant struggle as a society to create a story, to create a voice we can finally, as a nation, as a continent, as a world and as a people call our story.
by Anelisiwe 21
The first Freedom Day, in 1994, marked a departure from 300 years of colonialism and official segregation in South Africa, and promised a future where the gulf between rich and poor would be no more. Today, this promise still exists but its star has faded somewhat. 19 years of democracy has yielded little change in the living conditions of millions of South Africans, and for many this star has all but disappeared.
Born in 1990, a few months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, I grew up in a world sans apartheid. The scars of this past, however, were still present in South Africa’s social fabric. Despite the end of official segregation, my experience of post-apartheid South Africa still had an electric racial charge. Communities remained segregated, political dialogue was severely polarized, and the adage of the railway tracks was still a case of black and white.
As a young person in South Africa, my experience and prospects have taken their own special shape. Unemployment has been a burden for most South Africans, but has been particularly acute for the youth. Since 1994, South Africa’s youth unemployment has ranged between 45% and 58% and, according to the 2012 Labour Force Survey, is currently at the unacceptably high rate of 51%. In reality, more than half of the people who are expected to guide South Africa’s future do not have a stake in its present.
Last year I was destined to join the labour force as one of these ill-favoured youths, and with full knowledge of the mass of disillusioned young people that I was competing with, this appeared a daunting prospect. Nonetheless, I was armed with an Honours Degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and was confident that my academic qualifications would see me surge to the top of the pool of prospective employees. Several lukewarm responses from employers later, and my hopes were brought back down-to-earth.
The explanation for this poor reception rested in one line that marred my chances with most employers: ‘no work experience’. The Catch-22 of ‘you can’t get work experience without work experience’ became a dismal reality for me. I eventually emerged from the job-searching doldrums when I received some positive feedback from a small but growing Enterprise Development firm based in Westlake, called Fetola. In January of this year I was employed there as a business intern.
After a few weeks of working at Fetola it became apparent that there was just cause for most firms’ reluctance to hire graduates; namely that we lack workplace skills. As a business graduate, I was fortunate enough to be proficient in various computer programmes and could add value in this area; however, this is not the case with many other graduates, who do not learn these skills during their studying period. These skills deficiencies, as well as poor communication and presentation skills, make it difficult for many graduates to provide real and productive value to their employers. Consequently, this fuels the growing stigma towards graduates as being under-prepared for the realities of working life.
For a graduate, the first weeks of work are a baptism of fire. One is confronted with responsibilities that can make a tangible change in the real world; failure to manage these responsibilities can have ripple effects that extend far beyond the confines of a report card. This is far removed from the world of malleable essay deadlines that graduates are used to. In short, work experience is where real-world learning takes place. Working at Fetola has taught me the value of effective communication and administrative skills, as well as a work-ethic that formal education could seldom instil. This kind of experience is essential for graduates to succeed in the business world.
My experience in the workplace has also provided another lesson. Fetola (www.fetola.co.za) runs a number of programmes that provide SMEs with business support and help them achieve business success. Its mandate and vision are therefore very closely aligned with the economic success of South African citizens. The programmes generally give preference to firms that are black-owned or that have a high proportion of employees that are black, however the barriers to entry are high and there are no free rides. In this way, Fetola seeks to contribute to redressing the inequities of the past, but in a manner that is positive; it is about working towards a future in which all South Africans are successful rather than dwelling on past injustices. This is exemplified in the office environment and the spirit of the company. The workplace itself is extremely integrated, and amongst the employees the concept of colour feels washed away. Fetola thus resembles a microcosm of my vision of a future South Africa, one that is conscious of a turbulent past and acknowledges the need for redress, but for which positive action is not hamstrung by legacy and a sense of entitlement; a future that is about growth and not about politics.
The political discourse of 2013 suggests that South Africa may be adjusting its trajectory towards achieving such a future. In his 2013 State of the Nation address, President Jacob Zuma alluded to a youth wage incentive scheme and a shift in focus towards getting the youth working. Furthermore, The National Development plan, produced by the National Planning Commission, proposes to eliminate the ‘skills gap’ between what young people have learnt and what is demanded by the economy. At Fetola, we are busy with the development of the Graduate Asset Programme (GAP), an initiative to place 24000 graduates into internships over the next three years, thereby boosting the small business sector with skills and also giving capable grads much-needed access to real work experience. The overwhelming response to GAP thus far has proven without doubt that private and public interests alike are enthusiastic about putting our youth to work.
This political dialogue suggests that the star of South Africa’s promise may once again brighten for the youth. With Freedom Day approaching, the youth have cause to look back to 1994 and revive the promise of the future. This hope must be tempered by an awareness that we need to deliver on these promises, but by up-skilling our youth and by pointing ourselves towards growth and away from a racially embittered past, we can unlock South Africa’s potential.
Nicholas Owsley is currently a Business Intern at Fetola. He hails from the Eastern Cape and qualified with a First Class Honours Degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Cape Town in 2012. His honours dissertation was an analysis of social discontent in post-financial crisis America and was published as a working paper for the Centre of Social Science Research.
Standing on the apex of all that I think I know,
Wondering where all our leaders went,
are there any beautiful ones left?
Which way did the bluebird fly?
Did it leave with that rainbow?
That promise of equality?
Or did the dreams of our struggle fore-fathers die
As we took those first freedom breaths?
Which way did the blue bird fly? Where did the dream go?
Did it fly so far that we forgot about equal education,
Providing employment, adequate housing and economic equality?
I long for that dream.
That dream of Ashley Kriel, Cissy Gool, Albert Luthuli
And every south african deemed native, white, coloured or asian
Who have all dared to dream a dream that flew,
on blue bird’s wings,
somewhere over the rainbow and took that rainbow with it.
Where did the dream go?
Is it reserved for lucid, night time vigils,
lost in slumber.
And when we awake do we remember,
as this machine grinds and drives us forward,
or do we choose to forget?
Laying our ideals and dreams of freedom to die next to our regret?
Praying that when that blue bird returns it brings that rainbow along with it.
When will enough be enough?
When will our judgements no longer be clouded by our greed?
I sound my call hoping that blue bird hears my screams.
Or that you will find that rainbow in a dream.
And conjure it into this reality
So that we all can taste what it means to be free.
For now, as I stand here, on the apex of all that I think I know,
I hear our fore-fathers and mothers whispering to me on the wind
“Aluta, remember the dream, Continua.”
Poet . Performer. Producer