It’s Our Future. Give It Back!

by Iswamo Kapalu

June is Youth Month in South Africa. During this month we have an opportunity to remember the part played by young people, as midwives, in the birth of our Nation. It also presents an opportunity to reflect on the role of young people in the country, on the continent and in the world.

In the smoky and dimly lit rooms in which a substantial portion of youth unfolds, I have had conversations with my increasingly despondent peers. There is a shared sense that every time we go online, we learn of a new crisis threatening our future and the futures of our children. Our children who are no longer fictional prospective people, but real flesh and blood human beings whose protection and prosperity rests squarely on our shoulders. There are, however, barriers to the fulfilment of our responsibilities and, sad as it is to admit, most of those barriers are human and elderly.

Being young in South Africa, Africa and the world is much like watching a parent gamble away the family inheritance. It’s frustrating and extremely effective at driving a resentful wedge between ourselves and our forbearers, especially now as our own children arrive into an increasingly uncertain world.

Locally, the deteriorating political and economic circumstances paint a grim picture for our future. Recession, staggering youth unemployment and ratings downgrades paired with a kleptocratic and ineffective government increase our collective anxiety to unbearable levels.

I know well that if my country’s credit rating is so bad, that only the International Monetary Fund is willing to lend us money, my children will feel the effects of structural adjustment programs for years after the 75 year old president is gone. I know that if we build unaffordable and unnecessary nuclear power plants, my taxes will be paying off the interest for decades. I know that unemployment and a failing education system will only make the streets more dangerous and crime ridden.

All of these things are the fault of a leadership that is too old to be making decisions about my future, precisely because they won’t be there. When I look around I see no one who represents my interests politically and economically. Instead I see leaders obsessed with the past, with no plan for the future outside lining their pockets before they shuffle off this mortal coil – by which time it may be too late. In this respect, I suspect many of my African counterparts share my frustrations.

But globally, there is a more existential threat. I am aware that my children and grandchildren may well be the last generations to inhabit the planet that gives us life. Climate change threatens to heap incomparable misery on all of mankind but again the people who stand in the way are our elders. Men and women who neither understand, nor attempt to understand the science and choose their industries over our future.

Increasingly, our elders are setting themselves up as barriers to our survival and the survival of our children. We will not tolerate this for much longer.

It is incumbent upon all to work together to put bright young people at the forefront of our society, or there will be no youth left to remember us all in future.

Mr Iswamo Kapalu

Iswamo Kapalu is a young South African of Zambian origin. He holds an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand and currently works as a researcher, writer and social justice advocate at the Jesuit Institute.
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