Written by: Fortunate M. Phaka
South Africa 1976: A group of young people take a stand against an oppressive education system. The event goes down in history as the Soweto Uprising and those young people become immortalised as one of the greatest youth movements that South Africa and the world has ever seen. Their legacy lives on more than three decades after the protest. It is difficult to imagine any other group of young adults achieving as much as the youth of 1976, or even coming close it.
South Africa today: We are the group of young people that is seen to epitomise the phrase: “youth is wasted on the young”. We have all the energy and time in the world but it is mostly wasted on chasing the latest trends and trying to mimic what the media says is ‘cool’. We have all this time and energy yet we rarely use it to make the most of our advantages. We are in some ways similar to the youth of 1976, but our differences far outweigh any similarities that may be drawn between us. We are quick to notice injustices happening to us but we just ‘tweet’ about it and hope our elders will sort it out.
The injustices of 1976 compared to the injustices that we face seem worlds apart, but they have one underlying cause. Our leaders make decisions for us; without us. They had a highly questionable education system shoved down their throats. We have to deal with our future being decided for us without any consideration of what we want. They were in a far worse position than we are today and could have only dreamt of having the privileges we do. Their government was openly oppressive and we have the power of democracy on our side, yet we can only dream of achieving their levels of greatness.
Former South African president, Nelson Mandela, once said: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation”. These words have inspired a group of young people from Johannesburg, and they hope to emulate their 1976 peers. Today’s youth are protesting against the injustices surrounding canned lion hunting, and elephant and rhino poaching. This seems like a minor issue compared to what caused the Soweto Uprising, but there is one important similarity. And that is that rights are being violated and the youth have decided to take a stand against it.
Protection of the environment at large, and animals in particular, is a constitutional right for all South Africans. Additionally, the environment, including animals, should be protected for the benefit of all South African citizens. Levels of poaching and canned lion hunting continue to be high, while little has been done about the few elephants that have been poached in South Africa. Government’s suggested solution to the rhino poaching problem will only benefit an elite few and maybe a few employees of these elite.
The government is undermining our rights. Firstly, our right to having the environment protected on our behalf is being violated by letting poaching get out of control and not exercising any political will to curb it. Secondly, our right to equality may be violated if plans to legalise trade in rhino horn become a reality. There is no clear-cut plan as to how legalisation of rhino horn trade will be a way of protecting the environment for the benefit of present and future generations as provided by the constitution. Thirdly, our future is being decided by people who will not be part of that future. We cannot consider any plans that do not consider our input to be long-term, nor have our best interests at heart.
I am convinced that the youth of 1976 would not have let this continue for such a long time. Given half the privileges that we are afforded today, they would have done more than just protest against these injustices. Considering their militancy they would have even taken the matter to court so their most basic of rights could be protected. On 3rd October 2015 when the youth of South Africa take to the streets of Johannesburg, it will be more than just as part of The Global March for elephants, rhinos and lions. It will be a stand against leaders that are violating our rights and getting away with it. It will be a recognition that every animal holds great value for the future. Every animal poached or hunted unethically today represents a piece of our tomorrow that is being stolen.