Normally when writing my Ed’s notes to you something, either personally, or just life in general, happens to inspire me. For this issue, with a strong ‘youth’ focus, it was a terrible sadness that inspired me to write what is to follow.
In the early morning hours of youth day a heavy storm literally broke loose and the section of our house we are renovating (that was somehow not sealed off properly) let in huge amounts of water. There was water everywhere and being a public holiday, I asked some friends to help find guys to do what we could to secure the roof and avoid a second disaster.
Among the young men on the team, who came to my rescue, was a young man called Simon from a nearby township. His story, as told by my friend who he works for twice a week, made for my saddest youth day ever – it probably even spoilt my entire year!
From the onset I could see that Simon was a bright spark. He took initiative while the others were waiting for instructions. I was so impressed – asked my friend how he came to find such a jewel (though today I wish I had not asked).
Simon is 18 years old and one of four children. He was in matric last year but never finished school, as his family did not have enough money for school clothes and for him to travel to the school he was attending. This in spite of the fact that Simon’s father is the caretaker at one of the more affluent schools in the area and his mother works for a very wealthy family not far from where I stay. How on earth, I ask myself, did nobody, neither of his parent’s employers or the school, notice that he was lost in the system?
For me it’s not about how bright Simon is and what grades he got. The fact that he told me he liked school and wanted to learn, that he had dreams to finish matric – and never did, that my friends is not just sad – it makes an absolute mockery of everything we’re doing to fix the atrocities of the past. I mean; he went that far – he got that close – but just did not make it to the end.
It shatters my hopes and dreams of a prosperous and economically strong South Africa and it makes me feel that all our work towards transformation, uplifting the youth and building tomorrow’s future is lost. What’s the point of transformation in our democracy if not every young person in this country has a shot at being part of our new and transformed world?
No – this story is not about Simon, it is about what he represents, as I will not be told that he is the only youth that we have failed in this manner. We must remember that every youth we lose is a weak link in tomorrow’s economy.
On youth day I felt terribly ashamed. Ashamed of being South African, and guilty that I’m in such a position of power, yet I have not really taken enough interest in the future of the Simon’s around me – and I’m sure there were many I did not notice.
But I’m running out of time (and space), I have to go now. I have a meeting with a young man called Simon – I have an opportunity to fix a weak link in tomorrow’s economic chain – and I’m not letting that opportunity pass me, or shall I say him, by.
As I leave you to ponder the Simon’s in your life, also think about this: just imagine a future South Africa if all of us take it upon ourselves to invest in such opportunities …