Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Youth Day at Yabonga - Celebration through Music

Decorating the Board for Monday's Celebration
Today, I learned to dance. Or, at least, I tried to dance. Anyone that knows me realizes what a big accomplishment this is – I’m someone who can trip over air without trying. Our group – Arlene, Carolyn, Ben, and I – began the day at Yabonga sitting in on a planning session for the weekend’s Youth Day celebration. In commemoration of the June 16th protest that began the Soweto Uprising of 1976 in South Africa. The protests were a response of people discriminated against under apartheid’s Bantu Education Act. Among other methods of segregation in schools and reinforcement of a substandard educational system, this government mandate required Afrikaans, the language of white oppressors, to be the medium of education in schools across the country. Education in an unknown language effectively blocks students from gleaning the most they can from their classes. They become educationally stunted and cannot reach higher education, relegating them to lives of manual labor that lead to cycles of families in poverty. While the apartheid government intended for this to be the fate of all Africans who were not white, the people of South Africa would not accept it. Up to 700 people are estimated to have died in protests sparked by the Bantu Education Act. Many victims of the violence were under eighteen. The youth of 1976 fought for their right to education and freedom and the youth of today now celebrate the freedom they’ve been given and remember those who worked to give it to them.
Gap Year Students Demonstrating a Xhosa Dance for us
Many Youth Day celebrations, including Yabonga’s annual commemoration day, feature songs, dance, and poetry. These artistic expressions are energetic and full of anger towards apartheid, sadness about past tragedies, and celebrations of current freedoms. For the past few months, the youth groups at each of Yabonga’s eight centers have been preparing presentations for the 16th. This year, Yabonga’s Youth Coordinator Nandi, wanted the youth to focus on the era of freedom from 1994 into the future. This year marks 20 years of freedom and she wanted to demonstrate and instill positive attitudes about South Africa’s future in the youth. Rather than focusing and becoming stuck in the injustices of the past, Nandi wants Yabonga’s youth to actively participate in shaping an ever-brightening future. She gave the gap year students who work with us at Yabonga an empowering speech about taking hold of their own future and voting in governmental elections. Part of today’s youths’ responsibility, as Youth Day reminds us, is to take advantage of the freedoms that the Soweto Uprising’s participants fought to give to present-day South Africans.

Simon and Ben learning to Drum!
When the gap years were done planning the event’s schedule and soaking in Nandi’s multiple inspirational speeches, they moved on to creating a performance of their own. Dance and song are integral parts of the Xhosa culture and it seems that every Xhosa person has a wealth of musical talent. Within 30 minutes, the group had put together a fully-fledged musical show. A few rounds of practice, some explanations from certain members, and a drum seemed to be all that our talented colleagues needed. Carolyn, Arlene, Ben and I had been sitting and watching the piece come together when Lucina, one of our instructors at the University of Cape Town, came and asked the gap years if they would teach us some moves. There was a resounding response in the affirmative and everyone got into a large circle for a dance lesson. Large amounts of laughing, clapping, singing, and, – on my part – flailing ensued. A few of the gap years demonstrated some traditional Xhosa dance then we all tried to do the moves together. We were the students and I was most definitely getting an education. Later, Lucina remarked that it was nice to see the whole group getting along and sharing this moment mingling freely as equals. It seems to me that sharing the spirit of celebration between youth of mixed backgrounds through dance is a wonderful way to commemorate Youth Day and 20 years of freedom from apartheid.

-Rachel Kassler

*Thanks to Summer Rak for generously letting me use her photos!

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