The late founding President of the free and democratic South Africa, Mr. NR Mandela, once remarked: “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in our society – a life free from violence and fear.” Those of us growing up in Africa have been witness to the deafening thunder of the gun and the terror of the unceasing sound of the canon.
We have been at the mercy of gun-wielding, cold-blooded and heartless killers, terrorising our streets and communities, tearing families asunder, hunting human life and mapping their next kill; arrogating to themselves the power of God to decide life and death, subjecting us to the savage epoch where only the powerful survived and the weaker were decimated in a cold-blooded manner as if they and their lives did not matter, as if they too were not human.
Many women and children have been victims of forced plunder and violation by cruel brutes whose sole purpose is to destroy life and destroy it brutally, indifferent as to the soul that occupies every human body. Innocent boys and girls have been turned into men and women, into warriors, before their maturity and their innocence stolen, converted into heartless savages and beasts that worships only their masters and taught to wield a gun, destroy households and end life.
Many children have grown up without their parents as the tyrants had either killed their parents or forced them into exile or imprisoned them in pursuit, by conflict, of the goals which ordinarily could be pursued by peace and democratic governance, but which the tyrants, because they are driven by greed, had chosen to pursue through conflict, destruction of life and fear. We have seen children flee their homes and their home countries unprepared, in the ‘wee hours of the night,’ forced to travel thousands of kilometres in order to seek refuge in foreign lands and thus start a new life of uncertainty and insecurity in environments often hostile and unfriendly to their upbringing as children.
We have suffered from the disorganisation of societies, communities and families, as families split in the process of running for asylum in different countries and became exposed during the process of travel and even settlement in the countries of asylum, vulnerable to diseases, violence, discrimination, abuse and even exploitation by unscrupulous officials and criminals.
In a split of a moment, a comfortable and secure family is turned into an insecure and vulnerable unit whose members are split in all directions, forcefully separated, others killed and the survivors have to live with the anguish and deep-seated anger all borne of a situation imposed on them by selfish brutes and tyrants.
There can be no doubt that the children are the most affected by the ravages of war, either when violence is visited upon them directly or their families – parents, relatives and elder siblings. They bear the brunt of an unnatural situation which modern and a more humane society must ensure it never exposes its children to but rather must always protect them from.
In our case in South Africa, we have witnessed children thrust into a position of freedom fighters and accordingly many of them killed for daring to dream of and demand freedom for themselves and their fellow humans, sent to apartheid’s jails, and their education disrupted and thus denied the requisite skills with which to get sustainable employment and earn a decent living in later lives.
Violence, conflict and war are not the natural order of things. A different future is not only possible, but it is demanded by the youth of Africa today!
That, which I have described above, which is what we have known for decades, which at some point made Africa the biggest producer of asylum-seekers and refugees, can and must be changed so that the discourse about Africa going into the future becomes not only one of peace, but of peace, development, security and comfort for all her people!
In another speech, President Mandela said: “Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any person can have.” Peace is a precondition for development as development itself is a precondition and guarantee of peace as well as its sustenance. Accordingly, we must pursue both peace and development at the same time, as the two sides of the same coin in the same manner we were exhorted by those visionary South Africans of all races, ages, religions, creeds and ages who met at Kliptown, Johannesburg, six decades ago, on June 26th, 1955, to draft the Freedom Charter, which today stands out as the most significant document that first described the future South Africa we were fighting for.
At this Congress of the People, they articulated a future for our country based first and foremost on legitimate governance where the people themselves would govern and where no government would claim legitimacy unless it was based on the democratic will of the people as a whole.
They proceeded to articulate a view that freedom would be meaningless unless it granted everyone a chance to share in the country’s wealth and its land, and where social freedoms – including the right to “peace and freedom” – would accompany political freedoms because ultimately the people do not eat and sustain themselves, their species and their generations through votes alone.
In this document, they adopted a clause which read thus:
There shall be Peace and Friendship!
South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations;
South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation – not war;
Peace and friendship amongst all our people shall be secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all…”
We must be of the very firm conviction that the pursuit for peace and development in one country must be inextricably linked with the pursuit for peace and development everywhere, particularly amongst the poor and developing nations of the world, especially our neighbours, if this noble vision and pursuit must be sustainable.
On 14th August 1947, when India became independent, its Prime Minister, the late Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, said:
“And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also of the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any of them to imagine that it can live apart.”
If the world was interdependent in 1947, imagine how interdependent it is today when the information and communications, as well as the transport revolution has brought us even closer together through the process we now know as globalisation.
It is incumbent upon the youth, the representatives of the future, to become active in this campaign for peace and development so that the interdependence of the world is based on social justice and is fair for all.
You owe it to yourselves, as well as to all of us and most importantly to the future you represent to become active today in defining the future you want and shape it to be what you want. I call on you to reject the notion that the youth are the leaders of tomorrow as if to suggest that you must leave today to somebody else until tomorrow comes.
I subscribe to the notion proven correct by the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa that the youth are the most potent force for fundamental change; that without their participation today both as social actors – agents for change – as well as, as leaders, today’s struggles might slacken, lack dynamism and energy, and might become stagnant and result in the type of tomorrow that the youth will not, when tomorrow comes, want.
You owe it to yourselves as well as to those who will come after you to build tomorrow today! Tomorrow must not strike you as a surprise, but you must act today to conceptualise it and bring it about.
Youth leadership must accordingly be nurtured today and they must be assigned responsibilities that will harness their leadership capabilities and all-round competencies so that they can be even more prepared to lead in the future when tomorrow comes, and not be confronted with a new scenario for which they were not prepared.
Consequently, this means that you must even more vociferously advocate for citizen-participation as active and progressive social agents in pursuit of the goals which are uniting and which represent what the future should look like.
In both establishing the International Peace Youth Group South African Branch as well convening the World Africa Peace Youth Summit, the youth of Africa are taking decisive and proactive steps to build a peaceful, prosperous and better future themselves. They are becoming themselves the harbingers of the better and brighter future the peoples of Africa are fighting for and deserve. The nobility of the objectives of this organisation speak to the very heart of what we seek as Africans and what we pursue as South Africa.
It is my fervent belief that if the seed of a peaceful, prosperous, non-racial and non-sexist future is planted among the youth, humankind especially in Africa can be guaranteed of a sustainable future that will be cherished by the generations yet to come.
There is only one ingredient or precondition towards the achievement of these lofty ideals; and that is, each and everyone of the youth of Africa, each one of them a torch-bearer of the new type of peace and development, advocates for what our country, continent and world so desperately yearns for and aspires towards. The positive actions of individuals directed towards a common goal will reverberate into the positive actions of humanity that will sweep aside the tide of agony and pain we have emerged from and thrust humankind into the type of future we have thus far yearned for but not achieved.
It is important today, more than ever before, to borrow from some of the principles that guided the struggle against apartheid and colonialism that “the people are the masters of their own destiny,” they are “their own liberators.” This did not only relate to the struggle against oppression, but would be even more relevant in the period following liberation when a new non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous society was being built, a society free of xenophobia and related intolerances.
The challenge I am trying to place before you is this that as students, as young people, you ought to be seized, first, of the highest ideals about this country, our people and future; and secondly, you ought to become social activists for a better country, continent and world.
Peace without development will be unsustainable. We must all be of the unshakeable belief that the economic marginalisation of the majority is unsustainable and creates fertile ground for political and social instability. This cannot be in the best interests of any nation as no group of people can thrive amidst an ocean of poverty and marginalisation.
History has on many occasions before placed upon the shoulders of the youth of our country enormous responsibilities and difficult burdens which required them to commit extraordinary feats in order to bend the arch of history and propel the nation forward; and on all those occasions the youth – your forebears – never declined nor shunned their responsibilities, neither were they daunted by the sacrifices they had to make. Now is your turn!
Finally, let me remind you of what the late Mr. OR Tambo, one of the principal architects of our nation once said: “A nation, a people, a movement that does not value its youth does not deserve its future.”
However, so too must we make the very firm statement that a youth that does not value its nation and people does not deserve its future. This is the question before you: do you value your nation and people? What will you do to propel the nation, our continent and world forward?
By Mr. Malusi Gigaba,
MP, Minister of Home Affairs, Patron of the International Peace Youth Group (South Africa Branch)
Culled from The African Executive