June 16 1976 marks the day this country was stopped in its tracks by the brutal attacks of the South African Police when the youth, almost single-handedly, changed the course of our nation.
I got involved in the liberation struggle because I consciously chose to fight the apartheid system and for freedom – because of the love for my country, driven by the passion I have for my mother land.
Most of my youth and adult life I have lived in Mitchell’s Plain, since 1979. I still remember it as mostly farmland where animals were displaced to make way for victims of forced removals as part of the apartheid policy to divide communities along racial lines in terms of the Group Areas Act.
As a freedom fighter and political activist, I (as were many) was the victim of a vicious apartheid regime and detained for long periods without trial and tortured. In humility, I share my reflections of my personal and political life experiences – experiences that have also allowed me to be a vital part of momentous paradigm shifts and significant moments of transformation and national consciousness in South Africa.
This year we also mark the 20th anniversary since our Constitution was signed into law.
I also believe, given our history of conflict and scars of an unjust system in the past, we were always going to recognise any injustices in the future.
But in doing so, we must move forward in building communities based on democratic values such as equality and the advancement of human rights. We therefore have a duty to improve the quality of life of our local communities and also improve the potential of each person to enable them to be productive and self-sustainable citizens.
The brutalities of the past is testimony that our freedom was never free. The only purpose was that the next generation would live to taste the fruits of freedom and benefit from it.
However, what worries me most is that the mere mention of a South African identity, be it personal or national, prickles the ear and race consciousness is just about all our youth know.
Our entire history has been defined by race, notwithstanding the provisions and philosophy on non- racialism embedded in our Constitution. The basis of our struggle against or defence of apartheid is still to a large extent premised on race and the affirmation of blackness as equal to whiteness, or vice versa, depending on the racial point you want to make
It is for this reason that the almost entire socio-economic framework of the new South Africa is based on race. We can use this bullet to kill each other as we compete for scarce resources, or we can put in place a leadership that we can religiously hold accountable by the power of the ballot.
We have clearly not succeeded in replacing a deeply divided society with a society of social solidarity and proud South Africanism.
The apartheid label “Cape Coloured” was inscribed on my birth certificate. With the help of the philosophy of Black Consciousness I have accepted the label “Black” to describe my identity.
Sadly, there continues to be enough people who take pleasure in reminding me that I am not “black” or “African”. They insist I am coloured and I should behave like one. Generally, this implies I should be docile, mind my place in society and be grateful to the white man at whose mercy we live. How tragic.
Must I accept that we are still deeply divided and unequal, trapped in socio-economic bondage when in reality political freedom without economic freedom can never be self-sustainable and in the absence of a socio-economically prosperous community, we are experiencing a very uncomfortable disharmony?
We, require swift and tangible action in the form of a map, plan and calendar – and in doing that, let it not be mainly for party politics and a public relations exercise.
Sadly, many youth today are too preoccupied with the latest technologies and “bling” (plenty of it), instead of focusing on their education to improve their lives and those around them.
The result is that our youth remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, crime, drug abuse, unemployment and gangsterism from which they are unable to escape without any prospects of a better future.
As such, Mitchell’s Plain remains a prisoner of politics which accounts for why this community is in such a mess, socially and economically.
Mitchell’s Plain is in a sad state of despair. Instead of rearing a new set of leaders to take us forward, we are breeding a generation of gangsters and if we are not going to deal with poverty constructively, then poverty will deal with us destructively. Is there anything to be proud about Cape Town being the best-run City when people are denied the right to a normal and healthy life? The youth need to be empowered with opportunities to transform the area into a socio-economically active and vibrant community.
Lack of equitable service delivery and facilities continue to roll the loaded dice of capital formation in favour of the leafy suburbs where largely whites live while in the townships poor blacks have to sit uncomfortably on the lap of fate.
This is indicative of something fundamentally wrong in the make-up of our society and is vastly divergent from what is set out within the framework of the Constitution.
Ultimately, it is the youth who is our future and the reason for our struggle.
* Jacques Baartman was chairperson of Cedar High School’s Student Representative Council, chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain Students’ Congress, an executive member of the Cape Youth Congress, the South African Youth Congress, the ANC Youth League and a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).