We don’t have Thanksgiving in South Africa. Not even our own version like the Canadians do. And roasting an entire turkey is a bit unheard of – they don’t fit in most braai’s, and anyway would take way too much charcoal. We just go all in and roast and entire cow if the occasion calls for it.
It was a beautiful day, it was a terrible day. It was a day of celebration, it was a day of mourning. It was a day of great joy, it was a day of deepest grief.
There were two funerals in South Africa on Tuesday. One was for a great man who had touched the lives of millions. He had passed away at a ripe old age, having achieved in his lifetime what he had set out to do. He died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by his loved ones. And while we are all sad that he is now gone, Tuesday was marked by a spirit of celebration as we remembered a man the like of which comes around perhaps once in a generation, if we’re lucky.
The other funeral was for a mother and daughter who were violently ripped from this earth in a senseless accident on the highway. Their deaths were sudden and unexpected, their lives incomplete. There was no celebration at their funeral. Instead, there was wailing and sobbing, and the daughter’s former colleagues singing hymns as the coffin descended into the Earth to remind her loved ones and themselves that God was there, even if it didn’t feel like He was.
Woe is me. I am finished, done for, kaput, klaar! It seems like only a month ago that I was celebrating life and revelling in my youthful vigour, even as I watched my Beloved descend into the vale of years, but alas, no more. Time has finally caught up with me, has sunk its claws into my flesh and will not let go, as today I join my Dearest at the ripe old age of thirty-two.
Even as I sit writing this I can feel the strength being sapped from my limbs and my senses growing dull. My faculties are slipping and my…what’s the word…mer…men…mem…memory is no longer what it used to be. I’ve already discovered one grey hair and I just want to nap all the time.
Today is a big day in The Flat Overlooking The Vals River. It is the wife’s birthday today, ushering the twenty-nine days of the year where she gets to say that she is older than me. For the next month I have to lay down my mantle of patriarchal authority and defer to her in all things because, you know, we have to respect our elders and all that. (For reasons of health and safety (mine) I can’t tell you how old she is (she actually reads this rag), but I can tell you that I am thirty-one.)
As I watch my dearly beloved advance in years I sit back and once more appreciate the fact of my youth. Some embittered old person once said that youth is wasted on the young. I have decided to stop wasting mine. I am going to follow the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes which says, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes…” (Eccl 11v9, KJV). Continue reading “On enjoying one’s youth”→
Today is Youth Day in South Africa. It’s the day we remember the Soweto uprisings of 16 June 1976.
I’m not going to bore you with all the history, but in short on that day black high school students took to the streets to protest against a government policy which would have forced them to do receive half their schooling in Afrikaans and half in English with them having no choice in the matter. There were several protest marches in the country with the biggest being in Soweto, Johannesburg where between ten and twenty thousand learners took part.
The protest was initially peaceful. Accounts differ on who started hostilities, but at some point the police fired teargas to disperse the crowd while some of the students started throwing stones at the police who were blocking their intended route. Then the police started firing into the crowd, injuring hundreds. There’s also a lack of agreement on the death toll, with official numbers at the time stating 23, wikipedia saying 176 and a government website claiming as many as 700.
What is agreed is that unarmed children were shot down by police during a peaceful protest. News of the massacre sent shockwaves through the international community and it is commonly hailed as the turning point of the freedom struggle in South Africa.
In 1994, when the ANC came into power, 16 June was declared a national holiday, named Youth Day, to commemorate the lives of the children who died that day and also to honour all youth who had a part in the freedom struggle.
These days that isn’t happening. Nowadays Youth Day seems nothing more than an excuse for a party. Youth Day celebrations are held across the country every year at a cost of millions of rands. Celebrities are flown in, international artists perform, and a bunch of politicians and businessmen sit in the front rows where all the cameras can see them. Some minister or other high-up will give a moving speech about the sacrifices of the youth in the struggle, possibly mentioning Hector Pieterson and Nelson Mandela for good measure, but the rest of the event will be one extravagant bash.
And that, I think, is nothing but an insult to the memory of the kids that died that day. 23, or 176, or 700 kids dying is nothing to celebrate. Not even in the context of South Africa being free today is their deaths a reason for a party.
So, no. I will not be celebrating Youth Day and I won’t be attending any Youth Day celebrations. And it’s not because I’m anti-ANC, or don’t accept my country’s history, or white. It’s because I believe we can better honour the memories of those children by remembering their sacrifice, by saying a prayer for their still-grieving families, and by teaching today’s children about the price that had to be paid so that they can today be free.