A Passionate Nation

What does the youth of 1976 have in common with today’s youth?

As we commemorate Youth month and specifically Youth Day on the 16th of June, I have been trying to search for similarities between the youth of 1976 and the youth of today. The students that led the march against the Bantu education policy must have been extremely courageous and passionate. They knew that their actions would result in severe consequences, yet they still soldiered on. The repercussions of their actions lead to some of the educational privileges African pupils have today.

Even though the older generation has labelled us as the ‘doomed generation’, the passion of the historic Soweto Uprising generation still strongly drives the youth of today. You can see it in the artistic videos that are shared in social media, the faces of our national sports team players, and the students and rise against all odds and excel in (previously exclusive) academic fields such as science. Although sometimes misdirected, passion is alive within us and will drive us to greater victory.

In this blog, I will share stories of young South Africans that truly inspire me and give us a glimpse of the South Africa we can become if passion is harnessed and maximised.

Earlier this year I was invited to the Spirit of light event, hosted by the renowned mama Gcina Mhlophe; I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I would be sharing the podium with Major Mandisa Mfeka. I had read much about her and watched her documentary; her story was truly inspiring. She radiated passion as she narrated her story that night. A young girl from the township of Ntuzuma in KZN who fell in love with airplanes as a result of frequent visits to the Virginia airport in Durban.

In 2008 she joined the  SAAF and was enrolled at Central Flying School in Langebaan, Western Cape, in 2010, going on to get her wings in 2011. Early in 2019, she became South Africa’s first black female fighter pilot and in May, she was one of the pilots who flew at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration. Her tagline is ‘the sky is the baseline’, indeed her passion defied all circumstances and launched her in the sky. 

As an astronomy fanatic, I had always fancied having a celestial body named after me, even if it was a mere shooting star (Meteor). Hence, when I heard about a minor planet named after a young science enthusiast, Siyabulela Xuza, I was instantly intrigued by his work. Xuza, born in Mthatha Eastern Cape, is an energy-engineering expert and entrepreneur with a passion for clean affordable energy.

At the age of 16, propelled by passion, Siyabulela Xuza began experimenting with rocket fuel he made in his mother’s kitchen. After numerous failed launches, his experiments lead him to launch a homemade rocket, The Phoenix, which achieved an altitude of over 1 kilometre. This earned him the junior South African amateur high-powered altitude record. Xuza’s project on solid rocket fuel won gold at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists in 2006, along with the Dr Derek Gray Memorial Award for the most prestigious project in the country. In 2007, his other brainchild, “African Space: Fueling Africa’s quest to space”, was entered into the International Science and Engineering Fair where it won the “Best of Category” award and a “First Award” in the energy and transportation sector. His work has earned him several leadership positions and awards, including a scholarship to the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

I often get a glimpse of how passionate young South Africans are when I attend career exhibitions. Earlier this year I was part of a team of UKZN staff and students that attended the KZN High Achievers Seminar which was co-hosted by UKZN and the KZN department of education. At this seminar, top achieving learners from schools ranked quantile 1-3 were invited to listen to career talks. During the exhibition, two particular students approached my stand and started asking questions about astronomy and career opportunities. They passionately shared their love for astrophysics and started asking questions about wormholes and space-time dynamics. I was fascinated with the level of knowledge they possessed regardless of the shortage of facilities in their schools. I am certain that these learners, given the support and opportunities, will become the next Einsteins. This conversation left me beaming with pride, indeed, with these kinds of minds our future is in safe hands.

These stories are a testimony of the depth of passion in our youth and how, if cultivated and harnessed, it can significantly transform our nation. ‘Inkunzi isematholeni’; directly translated this isiZulu proverb means that the bull is among the calves. Indeed, the future of this nation is in the hands of the youth; hence, as a community, we need to synchronise our efforts to ensure that the young generation lives to its full potential. This will require the parents to be fully aware of their children’s talents and support them unreservedly, for teachers to impart their knowledge gracefully, and for the government to create a conducive environment for these young minds to flourish.