OPINION | Dear SA youth, Naledi Chirwa is us, but are we her?

27 June 2019 - 09:49 By Cebelihle Bhengu
EFF MP Naledi Chirwa delivered her maiden speech during the Sona debate on Tuesday.
EFF MP Naledi Chirwa delivered her maiden speech during the Sona debate on Tuesday.
Image: Twitter/Naledi Chirwa

June is always a reminder of the role played by the youth of 1976 during the Soweto uprising, and I have found myself grappling lately with a lot of questions surrounding the state of our country, particularly those pertaining to our youth. 

Unemployment, the scourge of women and children abuse and the fight for women to gain recognition - these are just some of the issues that South Africans face on a daily basis. So what we are doing to fight these injustices we continue to be subjected to 25 years into freedom?

I say freedom and not "supposed freedom" because I believe that former president Nelson Mandela, struggle veterans Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Chris Hani and Steve Biko, among others, fought for and won us political freedom.

But political freedom is not enough and this is not because they didn't do enough, but because political freedom is just the first step. To be truly free we need economic inclusion and emancipation. These freedoms need to be fought for by us, the youth, yet we are mostly silent.

We are silent in the face of women and children abuse, poverty, black people living under humiliating conditions and in squalor, state capture and unemployment. We are silent in the face of corrective rape, and in being silent we are as responsible as the perpetrators of these crimes, as is our government who fails us dismally.

I attribute our silence to, among other things, social media and keyboard activism. While we are more than aware of the realities of most South Africans, we sit behind our computer and mobile phone screens; start hashtags in the name of "activism", "creating awareness" and "calling people out". But where do these hashtags, in the bigger scheme of things, get us?

While I am aware that some young people in our communities and social media platforms are dedicated to improving the lives of those around them, and some students fought to their death during the fees must fall protests, a lot more can be achieved.

Naledi Chirwa’s courage and fearlessness carried her to parliament where she laid bare the real struggles black people continue to be subjected to.

Chirwa is passionate about black people, regardless of social class or sexual identity. In her first maiden speech during the Sona debate on Tuesday, she spoke up about the plight of lesbians.

“I am infuriated by your tone-deaf attitude to thousands of lesbian women, subjected to corrective rapes and facing their tormentors in the streets, because our criminal justice system cannot protect those who sex differently,” she said in her speech.

While we remain silent, let us think about the cost.

Our silence enables ANC House Whip Bheki Radebe and deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli to censor Chirwa and keep her from holding their government to account on an issue as serious as the murders and arrests of fees must fall activists, on the grounds that her remarks are “un-parliamentary”.

While we praise Chirwa for her fearlessness and courage, we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to magnify her voice? What are we doing to truly hold our leaders accountable? What are we doing to ensure that we fight for and get the SA we want for ourselves and future generations?

We congratulate Chirwa and hail her leadership, but we must do so as we work towards becoming like her.