Whoever Said Youth is Wasted On the Young Was High


Who remembers when June 16 was Soweto Uprising Day? The day was used to celebrate the valour of the kids who rose up against the tyranny of the National Party government, and to commemorate the spirit of those who lost their lives. In the early ’90s, mostly as a direct consequence of the bravery of those kids, we birthed a nondescript entity called

In the early ’90s, mostly as a direct consequence of the bravery of those kids, we birthed a nondescript entity called Codesa. It achieved many wonderful and useful things, but it also went on a major sanitization drive, culminating in Soweto Uprising Day being “celebrated” as Youth Day. Whoever said youth is wasted on the young was high. I imagine this is because “Soweto Uprising” conjures ugly images of children swimming in pools of their own blood. This is understandable. That mental imagery is probably highly upsetting if you happen to conjure it while enjoying high tea at Lanzerac Estate in the winelands.

Until early this week I didn’t even realise that Youth Day was this weekend. This is what happens when a self-absorbed individual finds himself in the middle of a particularly hectic work schedule.

This is when I got to thinking that, other than the loss of life, the greatest tragedy of that event was the loss of innocence for an entire generation. I firmly believe that one of the greatest gifts one can give to the youth is to afford them the space to be children. Whoever said youth is wasted on the young must have been high. Or maybe they, too, were lamenting having their innocence taken away from them.

Each time one of my kids accosts me with a totally naive question about the realities of life, I experience hectic dissonance. I wince internally and ask myself: “Am I adequately preparing this child for the world as it is, warts and all, or am I preparing him for the world as I think it should be?” But I also internally applaud myself for adequately shielding the child from the ugliness he may not be prepared to fully comprehend.

About two years ago we were on our way to Marloth Park, not too far from the Moz border, during their mid-term break. Traffic was diverted and we had to negotiate our way through the informal settlements on the outskirts of Daveyton.

The then seven-year-old was quiet for a long while before asking, “Why is it that the ugly place we drove through has only brown people?” [That’s the sanitized version of the “black people” his teacher prefers. Apparently, white people are “the grey people”]. Dead silence in the car, so I launch into a mini-lecture about the history of the country, with the then 10-yearold chipping in, having been a recipient of the same lecture.

The best years of “normal” people’s lives are their childhood and youth. I’m a firm believer that this should be the time in one’s development when your spare time is spent floating around being goofy with your mates and getting up to no good.

I have maintained that my memories of my childhood are very happy ones. Sure, there are things that I witnessed that I wish I could “unsee”. These include the first corpse I saw lying in the veld, when I was only eight years old.

And then there was the man who had been reported to oQonda, the neighbourhood-watch-cum-vigilante-army of the then KwaZulu Bantustan, for wife battery. He was sentenced to 30 lashes with a sjambok on his bare bottom in front of the entire community, including us, so that we would learn to never lay a hand on a woman.

Anyway, after about 12 lashes, the poor man decided to pull a Usain Bolt, sans his pants. Because of the size of the man’s belly above his not-so-impressive equipment, one of my childhood friends demurely observed that he looked like a pig running in reverse, leading with its tail. From that day onwards we called him Msilawengulube (Pig Tail).

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all gruesome pig-tail spotting. We still did the ordinary goofing around that kids get up to. Sticking “kick me” signs on each other’s backs, creeping under desks to tie classmates’ shoelaces together, attaching tiny mirrors to our shoes to peep under girls’ gym dresses and that sort of thing.

And when I went to boarding school my teens were spent doing mostly “normal” teenage stuff such as pranking schoolmates by, for example, carrying heavy sleepers’ beds outside while they slept.

The reason I mention these light-hearted moments is to reflect upon the fact that, as we commemorate Youth Day, we have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who walk among us who never had the luxury of enjoying their youth.

I know a fellow who has an extensive monster-truck collection. When I laughed at this quirk, considering that he’s in his 40s, he laughed sheepishly and said, “You know, while I was pushing a brick on all fours as a laaitie, all I wanted was to own a monster truck. And that’s one of the things I bought with my very first pay cheque, at age 24.”

This might also explain the totally bizarre US cabinet meeting earlier in the week that turned into a Trump kiester-licking festival. I don’t think The Donald had too many playmates as a kid.

Follow the author of this article, Ndumiso Ngcobo on Twitter: @NdumisoNgcobo