Forerunners of the future
By Kirtan Bhana  ·  2022-05-22  ·   Source: NO.21 MAY 26, 2022
An African participant of the Fifth China-Africa Youth Festival tries his hand at pottery-making in China's Porcelain Capital of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, on October 28, 2021 (XINHUA)

The hopes and future of a nation lie in the hands of its young generation. This is the opening line of the preamble to the Youth of China in the New Era white paper published in April by the State Council Information Office of China. Those born at the turn of the millennium, in the year 2000, will reach the age of 22 this year. These youngsters have been raised in extraordinary times—during unprecedented circumstances. Their perceptions combined with the realities they encounter in daily life will determine the direction of human development.

Youth, whether in China, Africa or elsewhere, have their dreams and ideals, carry forward the hopes of previous generations, and guarantee the continuation of mankind, as is the natural order of things. The profound ancestral connection is a common cultural trait of both Africans and Chinese and has not been lost despite the proliferation of digital connectivity. There are 780 million Africans aged 25 and below and, as the population of Africa is expected to double by the turn of the century, this figure is likely to grow.

Young Chinese have always been forerunners of national rejuvenation, the white paper's introduction further read. And so have young Africans. South Africa celebrates Youth Day on June 16 to pay tribute to the heroic school children who stood up unarmed against the brutal military might of the Apartheid regime in Johannesburg's southwestern township of Soweto. This particular uprising, which began on the morning of June 16, 1976, became a crisis for the racist regime and a turning point for justice and equality in South Africa. Taken by Sam Nzima, the photograph of the lifeless body of 12-year-old Hector Pietersen being carried by anti-Apartheid activist Mbuyisa Makhubo became an iconic depiction of the struggle for freedom. 

Youth protesting having to learn Afrikaans in school, given the language was considered the language of the oppressor, drew the attention of the international community to the horrors of Apartheid, which then made concerted efforts to rid the country of its curse.

The year 2022 also marks 100 years of the founding of the Communist Youth League of China. The May Fourth Movement of 1919 was initiated by students who gathered to protest the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, which left parts of China's territory under Japanese control.

China's youth today have a wealth of history, art, science and culture to draw inspiration from. The adoption of a system of socialism with Chinese characteristics has transformed a poor nation into a moderately prosperous one, in which the people are the priority.

Instant information and communication, 5G connectivity, robotics and artificial intelligence are the cutting-edge tools revolutionizing innovation with the new generation at the heart of this human development.

As is the case with every new generation, the youth are also confronted with the challenges of the times, be it climate change, which has a direct impact on human behavior and the environment, or unfolding social dynamics. 

The solutions to some of these challenges may be obvious to those who have enthusiasm, resilience and the resolve of youthfulness on their side. These youngsters are also equipped with the knowledge of the successes of the past generations and the lessons from the failures that were endured.

The youth of this new millennium are poised to make their mark in a world that is on the cusp of an era that holds possibilities to make a quantum leap and chart a new course for development.

The author is director of the Diplomatic Society of South Africa

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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