Young people have always been instruments of change. Unlike older people, they are not really invested in the status quo, the way things are. Young people help create the way things could be, they are visionaries of a future they will live in. I used to teach at a very expensive private school, I remember this one learner who was really close with her domestic worker. The woman had raised her from infancy and allowed the girl’s parents to pursue their dreams, while knowing that their child was in good, loving hands. The nanny was a woman in her late 50s who had come into the employ of the parents when she was in her 30s. She had witnessed them ascend economically to better and better lifestyles. Even though she worked for the family, the benefits didn’t trickle down to her.
The learner told me about a single conversation she had had with her parents about love. Her mother was telling her how love is a verb, something you do and not just something you feel. The mother was asking the teenager, let’s call her Amy, to visit her grandparents more, as a demonstration of that love. Amy was not keen because she was not that close with her grandparent; she had found them to be inflexible with their thoughts and at times, openly racist. She expressed this to her parents; that it would be hard for her to demonstrate a love that she did not feel.
Amy then said that she would demonstrate love to someone who raised her, who loved her, who nurtured her from the time she was a baby, that being her housekeeper. Her parents tried to argue that Gertrude, the housekeeper, was paid to look after her. Amy was not convinced, she pointed out how little the financial compensation was, that on a weekend getaway, they as a family spent more money than Gertrude got paid in a single month. She pointed out that since being a baby, her family had bought three houses but Gertrude’s family was still stuck in the same shack that they’d always been in, despite the fact that Gertrude was the most hardworking person they’d known.
That one conversation resulted in a lot of changes in Gertrude’s life. Her salary was adjusted, and Amy’s father who ran a construction company built Gertrude a modest two-bedroom house, the first brick structure that Gertrude had ever owned.
Amy gave me faith in the future; she gave me hope that young people demonstrate empathy and are willing to change the world for the better. Young people are responsible for the change in the way that we communicate. 30 years ago you had to know people personally, in order to be friends with them you had to have met them. However with Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, we are able to befriend and link up with people from all over the world. People are able to become friends, not only on the basis of shared geography, people are friends because they hold common interests, because they are all creatives, because they are all interested in the same idea of a future. All this change was made possible by a young man who didn’t accept the present as it was, but rather because he saw the future as it could be.
Young people have been changing the world since the beginning of time, they were responsible for the 1976 student uprising. Had they not acted against the status quo, this article would be written in Afrikaans and this would limit greatly it’s world reach. Young people invent technologies that push humankind forward. The protests going on all over the world against racism are driven by the youth.
In the queer space, it was young people, the likes of Simon Nkoli and Bev Ditsie, who advocated that the constitution of the new South Africa should offer protection for queer bodies. Today I can marry my fiancé legally, I cannot be fired from my job because of who I love. Queer people are allowed to be on each other’s medical aid and the contract of marriage has been broadened to not only be a union of a man and a woman but to be extended to become a union of two consenting adults in love.
The magic about young people is that they are highly teachable, they are not set in their ways. They are not invested in how things have always been. Recently in my family I realised that I still call Taxify by “Taxify” even though this transport service rebranded months and months ago and is now called Bolt. This is in stark contrast to my kids who adjusted quickly to the change.
For the past 400 years, humanity has been getting more moral, slavery was done away with, colonialism was dismantled, apartheid was brought to an end and now the world is tackling homophobia and racism. We have young people to credit for all these monumental changes in morality – the future looks bright.
Read one writer’s letter to their child about the dangers of growing up in South Africa here
Tell us: How do you think young people are shaping our future?