While June 16 is still fresh in our minds, let me ask you a question.
Who did you see celebrate June 16? Was it young people or adults? Was it people aged 5-11, 12-16, 17-21, 22-27, or 28-80?
Let me rephrase the question. On June 16, did you see children in creche or school dressed differently in celebration of June 16? Did you see teenagers participating in various June 16 programs around the country? Did you see Whatsapp status or TikToks of teenagers showing off their June 16 activities?
After pondering these questions, do you still think June 16 is a youth day? Or do you think that it is older people’s day? A day celebrated by older South Africans? A day when older South Africans get to reminisce about their lives as children of the apartheid era?
Is it a problem that children don’t celebrate this day?
I’m avoiding using the word youth because it confuses things. Especially here in South Africa, where the term youth refers to anyone between the ages of 14-35, placing fathers, mothers, and children as part of one demographic group.
I don’t mean to challenge our National Youth Policy, but is it possible that this definition of youth is making us blind to the fact that only a half – the older half and beyond – of the youth demographic is celebrating June 16, and the younger half is not?
As I think about this, more questions come to my mind, like who is June 16 for? Who needs to know about the events of June 16? Who needs to take lessons from the events of June 16? What lessons must they learn? At what age should they start learning these lessons? At what age should they start applying these lessons?
At what stage do we, the older South Africans, begin to realise that the actual targets of June 16 are children as young as nine? When do we realise that the June 16 celebration must focus on – or at least include – the real youth?
Yes, nine years might be too young, but it is too late to argue this point. Grade four history lessons aren’t sparing these little hearts. The lessons on the oppression of the African people are too graphic and painful – leaving them traumatised.
Therefore, a day like June 16, and any other day for that matter, should be used to help the actual youth understand what happened and why it happened so that they can successfully navigate through our painful history.
No, it is not too late for you to do something. We are still in the heart of youth month. So after reading this article, turn to your child and say to them: You are a descendant of great warriors who fought and won many battles and lost some. But still, they rose and grew above the defeat. Africans still rise. You, their descendant, will continue to rise. The challenges you face are different, but, like before, you will rise because you don’t know any other option. You will rise because you know who you are, where you have been, and where you are headed.