Most will recall their matric year with fond nostalgia, but for Imizamo Yethu’s Class of 2017, Grade 12 will not be remembered as a glorious watershed moment on the journey to adulthood, but a time punctuated by fear, uncertainty and loss.
Not only have they or relatives lost all their worldly possessions to one of the worst fires in Hout Bay’s history, but violence has taken the life of one of their own, their brother and confidant, Siyamthanda Betana, 19, who was killed simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time (“Tragedy strikes IY family”, Sentinel, July 28).
“We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We aren’t being given the chance to just be young people,” says 18-year-old Avile Bayibhile, who is completing his Grade 12 at Sea Point High School this year.
An emotional memorial service was held for Siyamthanda and his father, Thabiso, who died only days after his son, at Ambleside School last Friday.
A star pupil at the Hout Bay Music Project and first-year chemistry student at the University of the Western Cape, Siyamthanda was a role model to youngsters in Imizamo Yethu, a fact that was borne out by the many tributes paid to him at the service.
His death has weighed heavily on some of his closest friends, all achievers in their own right.
An already difficult year has been compounded by his passing, and for these five youngsters who represent the future of both Hout Bay and the country, something urgently needs to be done to restore normalcy to Imizamo Yethu.
As young as they are, they recognise that the onus will fall on them to turn the situation around. “We need to start working together as a community.
“The protests were started by corrupt leaders, and as a community we need to take them down so that the youth are able to stand up,” said Sihle Krishe, 18, a highly decorated pupil at Silikamva High School. “We need to let the people of the law deal with the circumstances we are facing, but as a community we need to help the law and bring people to justice.”
Avile, a friend to Siyamthanda for the best part of a decade, emphasised that the “uncertainty” in Imizamo Yethu had to be removed. “I was born and bred in IY, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.
Houses are being burnt, and we don’t know if we will be next. What people are fighting for (housing), they have a right to do so, but they need to figure out a better way to do this. Burning homes and toyi-toying is not the way to do this,” he said.
Most of Imizamo Yethu’s young people were now fearing for their own lives in the wake of Siyamthanda’s death, he said.
“There is a sense that anything can happen.”
With so many devastating incidents within a five-month period, knuckling down to study has been an enormous challenge for the Grade 12s, but Avile said: “We just have to persevere”.
“We just have to keep going until change occurs, as we need to focus on getting into tertiary institutions. If I was to improve things for the youth right now, I would say we need to see more education NGOs coming to IY. The kids need more playful things to do, things that remind them how to be kids.”
Yolanda Mhaga, 18, is the current head girl at Silikamva High School. Prior to the protests and subsequent violence, she had been working towards establishing a working group to tackle the issue of teenage pregnancy. The chaos and lawlessness have set back this ambition significantly.
“Matrics are now focusing on getting through their exams. Judging by the pass rates I have seen this year, you are seeing a drop in marks which is worrying,” she said.
However, she also believes that the younger people have a role to play in ensuring Imizamo Yethu rises from the ashes. “We need to establish a brainstorming group for young people in IY, so that we can come up with ideas for the future, as it is us who will be the leaders one day. I think we need a base from which to stabilise things.”
She also warned that people should shy away from being caught up in politics.
“It doesn’t matter if you wear yellow or red or blue, we should be working together as one community.
“During the 1970s, young people stood up to improve their lives, and not enough people are grateful for what they did. That is something we should aspire to. We need to explore our minds and liberate our minds.”
Wonga Lucas, a Silikamva High Grade 12 pupil whose poetry resonates strongly among his peers, described his late friend as someone who “unconsciously encouraged” people.
“Just by being who he was, he would make people see past their circumstances. He kept encouraging people,” he said.
Acknowledging that some young people were behind the violence, he said: “A sense of equality” needed to be instilled among the youth.
“In Hout Bay things are very unequal, so we need to push for equality. Then we need to change the mind-set of the youth. This can be done by supporting local initiatives that are aimed their way. I can think of the Eyethu Skate Park and Amoyo Dance Group as examples. People are being forced to grow up too quickly because of what’s happened,” he said.
He was deeply concerned that young people held up as role models in the community such as Siyamthanda and Songezo Ndude, who died as a result of blunt force trauma during the protests, were being killed.
“The kids are being forced to find new role models, and sometimes the people they look to are bad people. There is a huge sense of hopelessness. When your routine becomes disrupted, it kills your desire to want to go to school. For example, when you come to school without your school uniform because it was burnt in a fire the other kids notice. They recognise that you’ve lost everything.”
It had also become harder for pupils to meet up for study groups as a result of the violence on the streets, Wonga said.
Another Silikamva Grade 12 pupil, Cinga Vanda said it was “hard for others to know what we’re going through”.
“I think what we need to do in this community is enlighten people about their rights, to make them more aware of the constitution.
“The community can improve if people are educated on this,” Cinga, a friend to Siyamthanda for six years, said.
“Unfortunately there is a philosophy among people of our parents’ generation that if you grew up here, you will die here.
“Instead we should be teaching young people that they can be anything they want to be. Our parents should be more committed to the programmes we have here in IY. Siya taught us that you should never let your circumstances dictate where you want to go in life.”