Theorizing the History of Youth and Being Young in South Africa

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Kiran ODHAV, North West University, South Africa
Nyna AMIN, University of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa
Theorizing the history of youth and being young in South Africa


Presenters:        Kiran Odhav (Sociology, NWU, South Africa): kiran.odhav@nwu.ac.za

                          Nyna Amin (Education, UKZN, South Africa): amin@ukzn.ac.za

Through much of South Africa’s history, youth have played critical, challenging and epoch-defining roles in galvanizing political change and in the social, cultural and economic transformation of the country. Paradoxically, while youth are recognized in formal national and local structures today, many are marginalized, unable to enter the formal economy or the higher education sector, with poor prospects for a bright future.

This paper reviews the predominant theoretical elements of youth culture and politics over three generations: the 1950s, 1970s-80s, and after 2000. In the first era, youth had radical views within the confines of liberal-transformational resistance ideology, whilst simultaneously being creative in challenging both state and authority structures within their own organizations. Importantly, this period produced a proliferation of writers, reporters and journalists: writing emerging as a force of resistance and radical thought. In the seventies (1976 in particular) youth continued with disciplined resistance politics whilst its leadership was in prison, exile or hunted down. Though violence was directed at apartheid structures it spilled over into black townships, universities and into households.

In the new millennium, youth are somewhat ahistorical (‘Ipi-machini-wams’: ‘where is my machine gun’) sentimentalizing the ‘violence’ of their elders, imitating a struggle of the past, yet also seeking new lines of resistance (to decolonize universities for instance). Some move to ‘alternative’ political parties in search of hope or to resist the ruling party’s dominance. Others traverse national or provincial politics, or the corporate world, for access to wealth and better lifestyles. Those caught in the maelstrom of resistance may emerge as another lost generation especially as the African Charter’s (UNESCO, 2006) definition of youth stretches up to 35 years.