There were no large gatherings to mark this year’s Youth Day because of Covid-19, but its meaning seemed no less palpable for the primary and high school pupils who spoke to the Bulletin about how they see June 16.
Youth Day commemorates the hundreds of young people who died in 1976 during the Soweto uprising, after police opened fire on unarmed students protesting against the apartheid state’s decision to make Afrikaans a compulsory medium of instruction in schools. The day also draws attention to the needs and rights of today’s youth.
“I appreciate the young people that protested against Afrikaans because I suck at it,” says 13-year-old Princess Nyambose, from Westlake. “Now we get to choose which language to study, it can be Xhosa or Zulu, whatever. We wouldn’t have that without them.” The Westlake Primary School Grade 7 says this Youth Day was “weird” because of the impact of Covid-19.
Physical distancing at school has been an unusual experience, she adds. Her class of 47 has now been split into classes of 16 pupils and she has been separated from one of her closest friends.
“I really hope that by December next year we will have a cure because I miss sharing a desk with my friend. I also miss hugging my friends at break (time) and gossiping with them about celebrities.”
Princess says she fears having to repeat a grade because of the pandemic.
“I have never repeated a grade in my life, and I don’t plan to. I want to finish school by 25 and get married by 26, then when I’m 29 I want to have my first child. Failing will mess up my plan.” She speaks about the killing of George Floyd and the current #BlackLivesMatter protests in America.
On Monday May 25, George Floyd, a black American man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. A video of the arrest showed Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Mr Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. Two other officers also restrained Mr Floyd while a fourth prevented bystanders from intervening. All four officers have been fired and are facing murder charges.
Protests against police brutality and police racism have since broken out in America and the rest of the world.
“I saw the George Floyd thing,” says Princess, “and I’m happy that people are doing #BlackLivesMatter, especially young people. But America has so many people with the virus. I think they must all wear masks when they protest so they don’t infect each other. I also saw people drinking from the same water bottles at the protests, that’s gross, they shouldn’t do that.” Princess says she sees in her own community that people are not taking Covid-19 seriously.
“They think that it’s something that only affects white people, but it’s not. What kind of example are they setting for us young people if they don’t follow the rules?”Olivia Jenkins, a matric pupil from Constantia, says even though she looks forward to her matric dance in November she is resigned to the possibility of it being cancelled and considers herself fortunate to have been invited to the matric dances of two of her friends last year.
Olivia, who just wrote her June exams, says she finds it hard breathing under a mask for three consecutive hours, but she is glad schools have reopened because she can catch up on maths and physics, which she found hard to learn remotely.
She wants to study a BSc at UCT next year and major in politics.
“It’s good that Black Lives Matter is getting coverage because some people are so ignorant,” she says. “You see older people saying ‘All Lives Matter’, which is so ignorant.”
Olivia believes the “all lives matter” refrain undermines the struggle against police brutality and racism towards black people.
She says Youth Day should also focus on gender based violence.
“I was at a different school before, and I remember one conversation where I was shocked when this boy said, ‘You just need to get her so drunk so she can give it up.’ I was in Grade 9.
“I think a lot of these schools, especially the boys’ schools, have to teach students to not make misogynistic jokes and commentary.”