We have the opportunity to serve one another, learn from those around us, keep our government accountable and work not for our own gain but for a better future for those who will come after us, writes Carli van Wyk.
Not too long ago we had
our sixth democratic election. According to the IEC’s statistics, the number of
South Africans under the age of 20 that have registered to vote has decreased
to the lowest level since 1999. This is alarming and a clear indication of the
frustration amongst young South Africans. It is 2019 and still we are
struggling to reap the benefits a democratic system has promised. Have we lost
hope and chosen to ignore the suffering amongst us?
Growing up as millennials, we were told
that there’s no limit to what we can achieve. Call me a millennial, but I still
believe this is true. However, I don’t believe that achieving “what you
want” will come easy or is possible alone. I look at South Africa and in
my millennial mind-set I believe it can be different and change must be brought
about. As young people, we are constantly being told the world is our oyster,
but then it is time for us to take responsibility for our world.
Yes, inequality is your
problem. Yes, climate change is your crisis and the problems raised in Parliament
are not just the burden of President Cyril Ramaphosa and his fellow
politicians. No, South Africa is our platform and opportunity to work together in
order to achieve this world we have been promised.
We all have a role to play
and an obligation to serve one another without receiving any recognition or
gaining anything in monetary value. Of course the way in which we serve will
look differently as we all have a variety of skills, talents, passions and
platforms. The fact of the matter is that we have the responsibility to create
the world we wish to live in. You might only have the capacity to give 10%, be
it your time or resources, but your 10% maximised in the best way possible together
with the 5%, 2% or 80% of others will have the desired effect. For too long
young people have sat quietly and allowed others to play with their future.
It is important that we never
forget who we are and how far we have come as a nation. Our democracy is a
representation of a miracle. Against all odds, we have achieved a democracy
without a civil war. We showed the rest of the world the true meaning of peace
and reconciliation. But today it seems that we have forgotten that we have been
given the opportunity to show the world that reconciliation and change is
possible when people work together. We seem to have forgotten about Nelson
Mandela’s 27 years in prison, the value of Ubuntu and the Soweto uprising of 16
This year I have served as
chairperson of Stellenbosch University’s students’ representative council (SRC).
I have seen students divided based on socio-economic status, race and even
language but have also seen students eager and determined to overcome the injustices
of the past. Many times during this year I have found myself at a place of
being deeply discouraged and sceptic about the possibility of nation-building.
I have questioned my role in South Africa and have asked myself if it is even
worth trying. But time after time I have seen different students, leaders and
staff members all coming to the table with only what they have and agree to
engage, learn, unlearn and in the end build. I have realised that building
takes courage and boldness.
It’s easy, especially for
young people, to ignore problems and to stay silent or even complain. However,
the question that we have to ask ourselves is: how far will this get us, or
rather how far has this gotten us? In his book The Road less Travelled (1978), M. Scott Peck says that what makes life
difficult is the painful process of confronting and solving problems. Building
a truly free, equal and just South Africa will not be achieved without
confronting our past and our biases. It won’t be possible without the hard work
of individuals and communities working together. We will experience pain, but
without pain we won’t experience growth. Without the painful process of pruning
the vineyard, it won’t deliver a harvest.
Although I have been
frustrated, angry and exhausted by what’s been happening in South Africa over
the last few years, I have also been encouraged by the thousands of students who
took action and protested for justice in 1976. They did not keep quiet or
continued complaining. No, they were courageous and dauntless and stood up not just
for themselves, but also for the future of their country and the future of
subsequent generations of young people.
We as the youth can help
our fellow South Africans build this nation and bring about the change we’re
yearning for. We have the opportunity to serve one another, learn from those around
us, keep our government accountable and work not for our own gain but for a
better future for those who will come after us. May the events of 16 June 1976 encourage
and inspire us to take action and help build the country that we all want. May
we draw inspiration from former president Nelson Mandela when he said, “it
always seems impossible until it’s done”.
– Carli van Wyk is a law
student at Stellenbosch University and the chairperson of the SRC.
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