I had a long conversation with a small group of unemployed youths a few days ago. Young people in their early 20s, who are supposed to have a long, bright future ahead of them. At least theoretically.
These guys were not so sure about that though. They were actually quite angry. Jaded already before they hit 30. The government and its civil servants, those who are supposed to be their leaders, their role models, had abandoned them, they felt. They see corruption and nepotism all around them. Services, promised during election time, repeatedly not being delivered.
Their main goals in life — a house, a car, a family — they don’t think they will ever reach. And that’s actually not too much to ask for, is it? All of them still live with relatives, trying hard to get the odd job to contribute something to the overall household income, living off R50 a week. Their outlook on the next ten years in South Africa? Gloomy. We’ll be even worse off then than we already are now, was the shared response.
Their mantra: If you want to make things happen, you gotta fight hard for it yourself. An attempt at defying their lot. And that’s certainly true. We all need to be the driving force behind our achievements. We need to be motivated go-getters that grab an opportunity with both hands when we see one. We are, to a large degree, responsible for the successes, and failures, of our lives.
But when they made those statements, it sounded like a too often repeated slogan, empty of meaning, straight out of a motivational speaker’s phrase book. It stood in stark contrast with the reality these young people experience on a day-to-day basis. Although I could see that they wanted to make things happen for themselves and not only sit around and wait for luck to knock on their doors, I didn’t buy a single word they said. I could see that behind the brave faces they had put on, they were thoroughly disillusioned.
They are well aware that they can’t expect government to present them with an easy solution to their problems and struggles. But surely, there is also the government’s social responsibility that comes into play here — provision of basic services to all its citizens, including housing, health care and employment, which are all basic human rights actually.
And these were exactly the areas where these young people felt they came short. They complained about the rising food prices, petrol price hikes that translate into higher public transport fares, lack of job opportunities, housing shortage, limited access to tertiary education for financial reasons, and so on.
It’s disheartening to meet young people who don’t believe they have future, and it’s deeply worrying, too, because chances are that they will grow into adults full of disappointment, frustration and anger, time bombs ready to explode and to let out their discontent on those who are even weaker than they are.
Youth without a future is a country without future.