The youth of today

The next generation need encouragement

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It is the kind of heat that can cause one to hallucinate. Either that, or I am really standing in front of a giant ‘hand’ with a thumbs up. I am in Galeshewe Township in Kimberley, Northern Cape and learning to find shade. 

I circle the Hand and notice how it changes mood, depending on how the light reflects off it. The one minute it seems it is punching the air defiantly, Umkhonto we Sizwe style, and the next it seems so vulnerable as I glimpse beyond the brave facade and read the insecurities there.

I am about to take a few shots, camera at the ready, when I notice three youth sitting on a bench, watching me, watching the Hand. There is something in their countenance that makes me forget about the presence of the Hand and, as if by magnetic force, one foot places itself in front of the other until I find myself standing next to them. 

The bench seems slouched under the weight of the young men, slight of build as they are. Though they are joking and smiling, their bodies seem burdened, tired and, dare I say, defeated. “Are you guys from here?”
They exchange looks. “Yes.”

I notice they all have papers in hand. Perhaps they are studying or have just written their examinations. I point to the empty spot on the corner and raise my eyebrow. Their nods say it is okay for me to sit on the already tired bench. 

We chat, and through lively, laugh-filled conversation about the Hand and the tourists that come from all over, it becomes clear they share a strong bond. I notice a bold heading on one of the sheets of paper. “CV”. Curriculum Vitae.

“How is the job hunting going?” I ask. They shrug, the air fills with sighs and the bench seems to sink deeper into the ground.

“Sometimes you hand your CV in and wait for a response, only to hear that the job went to the cousin of the person who posted the position,” says Ismail, who sits next to me.

“After a few months of not even having an interview, I am wondering: why did I bother to get a matric?” says the quieter one on the end.

What they tell me fills me with sadness and a sense of powerlessness. Ismail can see me downward-spiralling and tries to cheer us up. “Don’t worry. We are in the darkroom of the soul. 

Right now we cannot see the image. But the details will come as we develop.”
“Ismail, that is beautiful!” I exclaim. “Are you a writer?”
He writes as often as he can. I ask him to never stop because he has a gift with words. “You are a wordsmith,” I add.

It is time for them to go. We greet and I offer them a traditional Zulu handshake: My left hand cups my right elbow, my body is slightly bent and I am making no eye contact. 

Then I offer a conventional shake, followed by clasping thumbs around thumbs and finally another conventional handshake.As I walk back toward the Hand, my mind is in the darkroom of Ismail’s soul. 

Curriculum vitae is Latin, meaning ‘the course of my life’. Where will the lives of Ismail and his friends course if it is this challenging for them to find work? If one wants to make a contribution to society, yet there are mile upon miles of barriers to entry, how does one keep oneself motivated?

According to the South Africa Survey published by the South African Institute of Race Relations, 51% of all 15- to 24-year-olds are unemployed – and the longer young people are unemployed, the more unemployable they become.

These thoughts are milling through my mind as I halfheartedly place the camera between myself and the memorial. I look at this giant hand through my viewfinder and press 
the shutter.

I get the distinct feeling that the Hand is trying to tell me something. I have not even bothered to find out what it is all about. There is a plaque and I bend down to read it: “The Mayibuye Uprising”. In 1952, the young people of Galeshewe rose against the apartheid system. The police opened fire on the crowd, killing 13 people and injuring many more. 

There is also a Casualty List of 13 names. These names are some of the earlier blood sacrifices by our youth in their stance against injustice. The Hand has me in its youthful grip. It is indeed brave, punching the air defiantly, saying: “We are here to stay.”

At the same time, it is a big, vulnerable question mark, asking for guidance from our leaders. Are we failing to recognise we are not giving our youth the hand-up they need? 

Not handouts, but rather the lifting of the very individuals whom we expect to be the baton carriers of our future. Are we helping Ismail and his friends to develop in their darkrooms?

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