Youth Day and Transformation

Today is Youth Day in South Africa. It is a name I don’t particularly agree with. Especially today.

In 1976, black learners in Soweto took to the streets singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (the then banned liberation hymn; our present adapted national anthem – yes this is part of why its offensive to defame it, it holds weight) protesting the Apartheid government’s decision to make Afrikaans and English the dual compulsory medium of learning in all black schools earlier that year, in January 1976.

Students peacefully demonstrated.

The Apartheid government opened fire on them.

Many children died that day. Including one Hector Pieterson, pictured above, carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette, running beside them, photographed by Sam Nzima.

The terror is palpable.

Before Instagram, there was this picture. A picture that showed the brutality of the Apartheid government. A moment where the world got to see a glimpse into into reality of what black people – black learners – were living. A violent existence.

44 years later, in this digital age, we watched a man die on video. George Floyd. The similarities in seeing the truth of people in power resonated in a very similar way.

A rebellion.

The Black Lives Matter movement catalysed global awareness and activism in our surroundings.

As a South African, I looked at that policeman, with his indifferent disposition, with his knee on his neck, and I thought, this cannot be happening in my lifetime?

And yet, here we are.

We have work to do.

Today, like many of our public holidays, is not just a day off. WE MUST REMEMBER. Today, CHILDREN DIED for our freedom.

That is why I believe the names of many of our public holidays must change, including Youth Day.

The words “Youth Day” to me is an effort for the day to be palatable. And I absolutely understand the predicament of our current government in the transition out of Apartheid – but as we push transformation in so many forms, these names must be transformed too.

In 2020, should we be talking about anything but the truth? The hard facts? This day, like many others, cannot just be a day to commemorate: it should be a day to truly remember.

We continue to learn that decisive language is a game changer in 2020.

In school, this day is taught passively, indifferently, and unemotionally. But as an adult, how is this day anything but emotional?

This day should, of course, be about the betterment and celebration of our youth and their best interests; endeavours for betterment should absolutely be acted on. But most of all, this should be a day of reflection.

A day without a black block to remind us of our duties.

While we debate the importance of tearing down statues, remember this: Hector Pieterson does not have one. Museums exist in his honour but it is not in a space that “fondly remembers” his existence. The same energy with which many of these colonial statues are being fiercely protected.

His legacy stands in this day. Much like many other unnamed people and unnamed legacies.