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