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`           Throughout our time in South Africa, the country’s emphasis on the youth—or the ‘youngsters’ as they’re referred to by locals—and their roles in the political sphere has been evident. From our time in Johannesburg, learning about the high school student-led Soweto Uprising of 1976, we understood the role of young people in terms of South Africa’s transformation from the apartheid government to its democratic society. The incredible enthusiasm and dedication to the pursuit of justice don’t necessarily exist in the youth in other corners of the world. People here grow up amongst political conversation and are acutely aware of the political atmosphere, as the parents of this new generation were the students of Soweto. Many parents, including my supervisor, thought it important to bring their children up amongst riots and pickets. In these times of tension and unrest, the prospect of a blissfully ignorant childhood is sacrificed for the sake of a politically conscious society. I briefly talked about this topic in a previous blog, but this week it became ever the more concrete.

            This past Thursday, Sonke staged a small demonstration outside a court while a rape case of a minor was going on in order to make a statement against gender-based violence and show support for the family. I covered the event for our social media, which meant that I had to create content that effectively conveyed the emotions of the day to others through a screen. In doing so, part of my job was to conduct interviews. I was doing just that when a young girl with a skateboard in hand approached me and asked if she could make a comment. I was expecting her to say something about why she was at the demonstration, but instead she thoughtfully suggested that I might want to allow people to respond in their native tongue, rather than in English. She said that in the process of translation, participants are not able to convey the passion they feel.

            I immediately smiled.

As a child of two immigrants whose native languages were not English, I knew this well; however, because I didn’t understand the participants’ languages, the thought of allowing them to respond how they felt most comfortable didn’t cross my mind. And of course, she was absolutely, 100% right. Not only did she have this valuable and constructive critique to offer, but she also wasn’t afraid to express it to a total stranger.

After this interaction, I asked her to say a few words about why she felt her presence at the demonstration was important, and I gave her some time to think up an answer. After a few minutes I asked her to share her thoughts, only to find that her eloquently crafted response revealed that she hadn’t even intended to be at the picketing that day. She had just been skateboarding in the park when her “soul gravitated” toward the scene. Her awareness of the political situation and her selflessness in terms of activism was made explicitly clear through the interview. Though she cited ex-president Zuma’s corruption as one of her many points of discontent with the government, she also championed for more attention to be given to the human rights violations occurring daily, such as the one happening inside the courtroom that day. Her wisdom and zeal made her seem well beyond her 16 years of age. I was in absolute awe of her.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the interview in the days afterward. I saw the same intense fervor for justice in her which I had seen and read about in those students in Soweto forty years ago. As she bravely stated, she was prepared for “tear gas and rubber bullets,” feeling as though she was “just a small part” of the bigger picture. Hearing her express herself with such vigor gave me chills. It is she—and ‘youngsters’ like her—who will keep changing this country for the better.