What does 1976 mean to a young whitey?

By Yvette Geyer: We need to see how 1976 liberated the white community … Every year when we celebrate Youth Day it seems the focus is on the liberation of the majority. Every year I reflect on how 1976 liberated me – a young white middle class South African woman. Without 1976 I would never have known what the experience for black South Africans really was. Without 1976 my freedom and democracy would not have happened. The heroes and heroines of 1976 liberated me not only politically but also psychologically.I am now free to have access to communities other than my own that enrich my lived experience. I have learned on a superficial and a deep level how the lack of democracy in my country could have prevented me from being a complete person.

Because of 1976 when I was at university I was exposed to a movement for democracy that sought to liberate all South Africans. Through these encounters I learned of how a lack of democracy oppressed South Africans – not only black South Africans although it was this group of people who bore the brunt of pain and suffering caused by centuries of oppression – but also white South Africans on a mental level.

It was however in the houses of people from communities that the government prevented me from experiencing freely that I become liberated as a human being. I learned how to dance to the rhythm of my soul, how to share unconditionally, and it was in these communities that I learned of humanity. It became clear to me that I could be judged on my actions as an individual despite coming from a community that was responsible for horrific abuses. Most importantly I learned of forgiveness and the important role it must play in the future of our country. I learned political and community organising skills that I would never have learned in my community that had acceded all its power to the leaders. I learned of bravery – under the most horrendous conditions people continued to live their lives and hope for a brighter future.

Every year I wonder whether the youth from my community would have been as brave as the 1976 generation – would they have been as committed to liberation at the cost not only of their own education but also at the cost of their economic and social futures.

Given how white people – young and old have not reached across the divide in their masses and how they complain about the impact that the New South Africa has had on our lives – I have to conclude that we would not have sacrificed so much. A generation of young white people under 40 appear to be unable to comprehend our past. While there is a small minority of white people who are living in poverty and we do need to address this – not as a special group but tackle ALL poor people at the same time – we as a group need to accept that our lives have not been fundamentally altered.

It may be more difficult to get a job in South Africa as a young graduate – but it is difficult for ALL young graduates and not just white people. It frustrates me to hear this as a refrain – it is not uncommon for people to struggle to get a job even if you have a degree. I fail to see how every year when the equity numbers are released that white people don’t have an “a-ha” moment and realise that they don’t have an automatic right to a job in a country with a unacceptably high unemployment rate and a still completely skewed equity rating across all employment bands.

I do recognise that our fragile democracy is not perfect but what I don’t understand is how South Africa’s wealthy and middle class youth – white and black cannot learn from 1976 to see that in order for that to change we need to mobilise – we need to stand up and engage with the political and social system to challenge what is being inherited. We need to cross the class boundaries and learn from those who struggle every day for water, for food and for electricity.

We need to understand – as the youth of 1976 did – that it is only if we look to ourselves and work with others and sacrifice now that we will inherit the country envisaged in our constitution.


3 Responses

  1. […] What does 1976 mean to a young whitey? … white people don’t have an “a-ha” moment and realise that they don’t have an automatic right to a job in a country with a unacceptably high unemployment rate and a still completely skewed equity rating across all employment bands. … […]

  2. An interesting article indeed. The fact that majority of South Africans are blacks who continue to bear the brunt of poverty and entangle in the vicious cylcle of poverty and disease, poverty remains endemic in both black and white communities. But in a democartic country of today I do urge fellow citizens of South Africa to advocate for their rights to basic human needs (water, haelth care, electricity, housing ) in a deligent and non violent manner.

    The philosophy of Gandi ‘Non violent resistance’ to grievances against the state. I do condemn the xenophobic attacks on foreigners at Alexandra Township and other parts of the country that has soil the image of South Africa in the global scene.

    However, democracy has to be checked and the role of law must prevail in any demcratic society. South Africans have the responsibity to promote this fragile democracy by cultivating a culture of peace, love and respect for one another.

    The youths of 1976 will always be remembered as heros and heriones of the democracy South Africans enjoy today in terms of social, political and economic justice.

    In the new democratic dispensation, it is the responsibility of both blacks and white to protect this fragile democracy.

    Thank you

  3. Hi Michael,

    I agree with all your sentiments – the real issue is how do we involve young people from across the spectrum in a way where they identify with the nation rather than only their narrow cultural identities and cross the boundaries in joint participation in building the country in a non-violent way – this requires that they acquire and see the need for political skills that will leverage government resources that should be spent with a view to fulfilling the dream in our constitution.

    Happy Youth Day and hopefully we can all work towards inspiring young people to draw on the memory of those who have gone before as we look to building a brighter future.


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