The Church knows the importance of celebrating religious feast days – we have recently marked Pentecost, Corpus Christi and Sacred Heart. This weekend we have two important secular feast days: Youth Day and Fathers Day. As with Church feasts, these provide an opportunity to look back and commemorate. But they are also moment to pause and ask ourselves what we are doing in the present.
As a young child in Orlando, I recall clearly the events of 16 June 1976. Soweto was covered in teargas, blood was pouring all over the streets. On that day everything was dark and hope was nearly lost. And the darkness continued. Sadly in 1986, when I was a learner, we were still crowded in school. In my classroom we were 107 learners: movement was impossible; no teacher could reach a learner sitting in the middle or at the back; for us to fit we had to do away with desks and write on our laps.
Now those emerging from our schools are the ‘born-frees’. Since 1994 I had hoped that every child in the country would access good education, but I was wrong. One born-free I spoke to shared my hopes for of our education system but also had experienced its sorrows.
She was aware of two types of schools. The Suburban high schools with a fully-equipped lab, where learners can study theory and also do practical work; where there is a sports field that has a qualified sports teacher. And then her township high school: a lab but without equipment; practical work impossible; no sports facilities. The well-equipped school seems to her to be a fairy- tale; concrete things are not reachable. The word promise is a positive word but in our country this word has become artificial. Where did we go wrong – greed, corruption and power?
The young men who fought and placed themselves on the line in 1976 are now, many of them, fathers. Where is their struggle now? Are they supporting the education of their own children, contributing financially, encouraging studies, reading with the young ones? Some are now teachers and principals and education officials – are they working for the good of their learners or for their own good? Some are politicians – do they see Father as a title of honour, or as a challenge they have to live up to?
I always rejoice in the Gospel reading, Matthew 2: 1: “some wise men came from the East”. Do the young men of 1976, now grown up, want to be like them and do all that is correct for our country and be called wise?
We celebrate our youth and we celebrate our fathers: for the gifts that they have already given to our society and the sacrifices many of them have made. But we can also challenge the youth and the fathers of modern South Africa: how will they now use their gifts to build the society that many fought and died for in 1976? There is a Sotho proverb: “Education is gift” (Thuto ke lefa). What have I done with the gifts that I have received? What gifts have I passed on?