Fighting the Unseen Enemy

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Penny Mkhize

As we pause to celebrate the spirit of the young of South Africa on Youth Day this June 16, we must remember many of them are suffering in the scary, uncertain world of COVID-19 with the same underlying iniquities that drove them to rebellion in 1976.

June looked promising with the prospect of parole from lockdown, with the hope of returning to normal in 21 days. It was a risk in this global pandemic; the trends in other countries in lockdown stood as a warning.

We must look back in sorrow at the damage of COVID-19 and consider how much it will hurt the youth of South Africa.

Around half of South African companies will go to the wall in the post COVID-19 world – whatever that will look like – and millions of jobs will disappear with them.

The youth were struggling to find jobs long before the lockdown in a shaky economy.

You could argue that the grandchildren of the young bloods of Soweto have more opportunities without the pass laws and police that haunted their forebears. Yet how much opportunity will any have in an economy that is unable to absorb them?

Then there is the question of online schooling for children at home in the lockdown.

Not everyone has fibre and an expensive laptop with which to do this. If ever the pandemic exposed - most cruelly - the gulf between the haves and have-nots, this was it.

On top of this, how do you study, or even social distance or work from home when you live with your parents and ten other family members in a four-room house?

That dreadful feeling of knowing you’re falling behind in everything, be it schoolwork or professional work, must be soul destroying.

These are the struggles that many of the young face 44 years after the Soweto Uprising.

The struggle takes a toll on the mind as well as the body.

We have seen an increase in mental health conditions during this pandemic as the youth navigate the uncertainty of the future amidst an academic year turned upside down.

Many are the current or are the future breadwinners of their families and this responsibility, along with the uncertainty, weighs on their shoulders like lead.

This is the reality of our youth.

It was a cruel, if unintended, irony that COVID-19 saw soldiers back on the streets of Soweto to enforce the lockdown. It brought back bitter memories of how soldiers once kept the youth in line through the barrel of the gun.
But the relentless, brave and undying spirit of our 1976 youth has stood the test of time and the pain of oppression to survive.

The youth are fighting to live and be heard. We are witnessing this indomitable spirit during this pandemic that has descended like a heavy cloud on poor communities that were already struggling to keep body and soul together.

Our youth have risen to make their voices heard through the sharing of information and steering of debates on social media. They have also raised their voices to government about the high unemployment rate, concerns about their living conditions and the disrupted academic year.

Through all the uncertainty, what we know for sure is that we are going to make it through this pandemic.

Together we can defeat this unseen enemy. We cannot and will not fail as a people; remember this on Youth Day and be proud of our young.

Penny Mkhize is an HR specialist with a passion for mental health issues and gender equality

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