Lessons for youth from sacrifices and celebrations

It is in many ways appropriate that Youth Day (Saturday) and Father’s Day (Sunday) fall on the same weekend. If one adds Eid (Friday), then there are all kinds of symbolism that is difficult to ignore.

Youth Day has morphed from a commemoration of the events in Soweto on 16 June 1976, when police shot and killed students who were protesting against being taught in Afrikaans, to a day when one focuses on all the issues facing young people, such as unemployment, gangsterism, drugs, teenage pregnancies, etc.

Father’s Day, of course, is a commercial invention aimed at getting consumers to show appreciation for their fathers by buying gifts and entertaining them.

Eid is a celebration of life after a month of fasting, called Ramadan, when Muslims throughout the world abstain, at least during daylight hours, from food, drink and other perceived worldly pleasures. It is an opportunity to reflect on what is important in life and how one can live without some important things.

Because of the differences between the Muslim (Hijri) calendar and the Gregorian calendar that we follow, Eid falls on different days each year, so it is not likely that one will have this confluence of events again for many years.

But it is important to focus on the sacrifices inherent in Ramadan and Youth Day and the excesses that are promoted for something like Father’s Day. Many young men are also fathers and Father’s Day should probably focus more on how to get more young men to take responsibility for being fathers.

When I grew up on the Cape Flats, it was not unusual to hear people, men and women, say that it is easier to have boys because they can just walk away after making girls pregnant. It is not so easy for girls who must live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives.

This outdated thinking is probably behind a lot of the lack of accountability by young men who refused to accept paternal responsibility or responsibility to other actions which can only be perpetrated by men.

Thrown into this mix, it is entirely appropriate that a new show, called #JustMen, started at the Baxter this week and its aim is to get men to take a stand against violence against women and children.

#JustMen is an attempt to get men to take ownership of a problem which, as the organisers point out, is essentially a man’s problem. This follows the worldwide #MeToo campaign which saw women throughout the world raising their voices about abuse by men.

The play is produced by Heinrich Reisenhofer, who produced several award-winning productions, and feature a cast of prominent male stars. The Baxter hopes that they will be able to attract a wide range of men to this show, including captains of industry and people with influence in various sectors of society.

“The need to start open discussions, take ownership and outlaw this horrific scourge has become urgent. Become part of the movement to help transform our society into a safer and healthier environment,” said Baxter CEO and artistic director Lara Foot.

Reisenhofer added: “This is a very personal project for me about bringing healing and transformation into the theatre space and engaging a brave and vulnerable conversation about men taking responsibility, not just for the men we want to be, but the kind of world we want to be part of.”

What I love about theatre is its ability to turn a microscope on society and to interrogate, often in detail, issues that we often try to ignore. My biggest problem is that, often, this starts and ends in the theatre and has no impact beyond the few minds who might have been exposed to a particular production.

For something like #JustMen to be really effective, it will have to find a home and resonance beyond formal theatre. It is something that needs to travel to schools and universities throughout the country and it needs to be backed up by an incredible publicity campaign, especially in social media. It is one thing to create a hashtag. It is another thing to make it trend.

Something that has been baffling me for years is the fact that men do not form the majority of people in the world, but they cause the majority of problems and they occupy the majority of leadership positions, whether this be in politics or business or other sectors such as sport.

As we reflect on Eid, Youth Day and Father’s Day this weekend, we should also reflect on what we can do as individuals to change the world into a better and safer place for all, especially girls and women. If we succeed in this, the sacrifices that many have made in the past will not have been in vain.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 June 2018)