Let me begin by saying a thank you for giving me the opportunity to share in celebrations of your very special moment. It was very difficult to decide what to talk to you about. Careers! Well all day your tutors are going to tell you about them.
Studying hard – I think you hear enough of that.
And then some thoughts began to reflect and run through my mind; shoot past me like a hurricane and I remembered: I see a young 18 year old – not too different from your-selves – standing at the edge of her new life, with stars in her eyes. She had to grow up too young. She had been a student activist in a fledgling democracy again not too different perhaps from some of you. Her lifetime of search to find a unique way of being had just begun. Her opposition to her parents and community had just begun. I see myself in all of you today.
A young person, daring to be a young, a hopeful person in the new South Africa and dealing with savage inequalities in the communities of the new South Africa.
Motivating, inspiring, developing, and creating the new leaders of tomorrow so that South Africa may survive. Life is so beautiful when you are young and strong and the future lies at your feet. All things are new. You fall in love deep, real, harmonious, tranquil love that a burst of energy pours beauty into everything.
A new place at a University – to study new things about the world, our country and oh for the very first time, like a child taking a step for the first time; like a baby being born OR a first time parent.
Such delicious, such precious feelings. And here you stand – on the very first day of the whole of your future.
Gioconda Belli from Nicaragua, comes to mind.
I have borrowed some of his lines and added some of my own to celebrate what I feel about living and working in South Africa:
Rivers run through me
Mountains bore into my body
And the geography of my beloved South Africa Begins forming in me,
Turning me into lakes, chasm, ravines,
Earth for sowing love’ opening like a furrow Filling me with a longing to live
To see it free, beautiful Full of smiles on the faces of the young ones
And I want to explode with love
The silent questions in the eyes of the poor hit my senses
Diffusing and dispersing through my very soul
Monstrous fangs of poverty and hunger, the killings, the fires, the taxi wars
The heat cooking the living in its wake
I can’t take this. I am not so young any more..
And yet I must create a sense of connected-ness to so much diversity.
I feel suffocated, incoherent, scattered and disengaged
I want to scream at the politicians and the leaders
And then I catch a glimpse of my shadow.
I am young. I am hopeful.
I am South Africa’s future. That is you.
The poem LIES comes to mind
telling lies to the young is wrong
proving to them that lies are true is wrong
telling them that God’s in his heaven
and all is well with the world is wrong
The young know what you mean
the young are people
tell them the difficulties can’t be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.,
say obstacles exist they must encounter
sorrow happens, hardship happens
forgive no error you recognise,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our youth will not forgive in us what we forgave.
As you move towards new careers, I can hear the rhythm in your footsteps and the symphony of your soul as you walk towards your dreams and ambitions. I can feel the magic in the air, the starlight in your eyes and dreams of better tomorrows beyond the sky.
Life will never be the same again and you need never look back. You have tasted success and taken the first step towards equalizing the unequal power relations. As you find creative and constructive solutions for your lives, you will allow yourself to untangle the web of your difficulties, your own dilemmas. To be in charge of your own destiny is the most intoxicating feeling. To have a career and to be qualified is a transforming phenomenon for your whole life. You are free – free to make own choices, own mistakes. I can feel the heightened sensation that you are feeling – of being someone, of achieving something that you thought that you will never do. I am hoping that your horizons will stretch further and further and that this is just the beginning.
Yours is the generation that is the hope for the new South Africa. Your mothers and fathers, friends and families are waiting for that proud moment when you will place a gown around your shoulders and a hat of knowledge on your head. They will be uplifted also. Many of them have sacrificed and yet encouraged you, stood by you, told you a thousand times that it will all be worthwhile one day. WHY?
They have done so for one very simple reason. Not many in their generation had a rightful place in the sunny South Africa. Their language, their culture, their career ambitions were not entertained by the 50s; 60s; 70s and the 80s. Their world was controlled by forces of evil, twisting and turning everything in their lives until the very life was sucked out of so many of them. They were taught systematically to deny their feelings, fears, aspirations and needs.
And now here you are at the threshold of a brand new tomorrow. What will your perspective be? How seriously and sincerely will you consider different dimensions of education and careers?
Turning to young ladies in the audience for a minute as a daughter for example, I was brought up with little or no regard for my own career ambitions. The focus was on ‘family values’. No one prepared me for the realities of life – I have come over half a century in my life’s journey. I look around and it still goes on. Single parenthood; widowhood; abuse; poverty; homelessness.
The largest labour force is that of wives, domestics and female labourers in any industry anywhere in the world. Under the guise of “family values” we have been imprisoned in our own fairy stories for much too long. The longest running revolution has kept us well and truly trapped in “Production” and “Reproduction”. Many of us could write our own tragic stories, which will speak of the alienation as we strove to be equal within our family positioning of our sexuality. Many of us can tell you how we turned that tragedy around as only women can do, becoming our own liberators.
Do you know what education really breaks through? The more you learn the more you understand how to be free. What was Steve Biko’s black consciousness all about?
Access to ALL anti-poverty measures, are controlled by powerful people who can ONLY exist because the poor service them.
Skill is power.
Knowledge is power.
High level qualifications are power.
Our parents were systematically damaged at many different levels psychological, physical, emotional and intellectual oppression that damaged their psyches to such a degree that even when they step out of the pot, they willingly immersed themselves in this pernicious practice and began to collude in their own oppression.
I feel deep resentment when I see so many young people willingly trapped in a circle of deficit models, a deep-rooted culture of entitlement, a culture of impunity, which I know will destroy our beloved country. OR it will be a new kind of slavery, that of our minds because of our lack of determination to skill and empower ourselves to take control of our own destiny even when opportunities are in abundance. I am not sure any more why Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Steve Biko and Hector Peterson, suffered so much. I see I see so much of procrastination, greed, and self-centredness amongst all kinds of people. I know that these are consequences of powerlessness. But if you do not rise and take action to turn around your own life chances, the future will not be fixed for you by anyone else.
Kodak images of snapshots of hope of improvement can be found in corporate magazines, educational posters available from any provincial department, charity magazines, on Sunday mornings in the wonderful educational programmes and the like.
So what will you do?What practical advice can I give you? Make a 3 point Action Plan for 2002.
1. Know the facts of your positioning in the world
Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read and write; unable to count and manage their own small income. The large majority of this billion humanity lives in Asia and Africa.
Know that no nation can go into its future confident and competent if its children and young people are not getting a fair deal.
Make success in education the ONLY yard-stick of success in 2002.
2. Learn one new skill every week – something more than just ordinary.
Next time you are tempted by TIMBERLAND and Nike, and your pockets are heavy with cash turn around and find a computer shop. Go past the deck of computer games. Instead fast track to the world of information technology. Get access to knowledge based systems.
3. Learn about the bigger picture.
Do you have any views on the world trade centre story? What are your views based on? A cultural value acquired from your parents OR real understanding of the wretched state of humanity. Maya Angelou a great Afro American writer said early this month – It is now time for thinkers to think.
Believe that development first and foremost means the development of the human mind, the skills, and the knowledge base.
3. Do something to benefit your community
There are basically 3 kinds of people in this world
· Those who observe the changes with time and humanity.
· Those that commit to making changes to humanity’s state.
· And those who hide.
Do something. Little drops of water make a flood.
So cause a flood. Be the most knowledgeable person you know. Of course it will not be easy. Who said it was? Learning is risky, painful, dangerous, challenging and hazardous, heartbreaking and will test all dimensions of your senses.
Hardcore Black American rap comes to mind – an irritating oscillation, between mindless, shapeless, loveless, vision-less rebellion, verbally violent declarations of destructive responses to the ills of society and yet complete paralysis of action.
Julius Nyerere said:
“Education is not a way of escaping country’s poverty. It is a way of fighting it.”
I say to you: Look around you. Look at the history. Poverty and ignorance are created paradigms. Redundant and entrenched views on how the poor and the black behave, learn, live etc. are all created paradigms. All can therefore be shifted. If you do nothing, then you are equally guilty in perpetuating the same old story.
For me, the fragile and vulnerable rural world comes to mind. 7 years of democracy has not given them homes or education or water and electricity but they have been invaded by Coca Cola, the Bold and the Beautiful, moronic arcade games and McDonalds. And our children will become pawns in the chess game of the new imperialism, swallowing nation after nation in Africa, with our willing participation, placing our children and our futures for sacrifice to the new gods – the mantle of new enslavement of our mind.
You the youth of tomorrow can break this cycle, this paralysis. ONLY you can make your voice heard. Don’t allow the proud African humanity rot and decay.
For so many of our young no shackles have been broken, no silences sabotaged, no liberation from the entrapments of ignorance and poverty.
5. Have good clean lots of fun.
Do something to give shape and discipline to your body. It is your best asset. Take control of your physical, sexual, mental and emotional health and the rest will follow.
It is a day to rejoice in your success. Go from strength to strength. It is your life. It is not a dress rehearsal. You can’t “do it better tomorrow”. You have to perform your best – today. And then make it even better.
This is it. I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your very special moment. I wish you power and success. Thank you.