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The struggle of being young in South Africa

It is very difficult to live in this era and not have goals, as the youth. Everyone is on the move, constantly trying to secure a deal or a sum of money. Everyone seems to be doing something on their social media timelines thus making it easy for one to feel left out. Everyone seems to have a title or label attached to their bio. This can get overwhelming and tends to cause much anxiety. It adds to the other pressures of life that we struggle to even grapple with.

The reality is that in a country like South Africa, where youth unemployment is so rife, it can be very difficult to build and maintain a name for yourself. Even the “graduate” title somehow falls away after some time. This leaves our aspirations as young people, high and dry. We are “aspiring creatives, aspiring medical practitioners” and so forth.  The great aspirations that we have are not holistically fulfilled, even with the accreditations we would have acquired from school. For this reason, we struggle to own up to anything we do.

The need to be seen and validated often clouds the ownership of our work.  We treat aspirations like simple ideas that live in our heads and not projects we actually put work into. We invalidate ourselves when we do not get the recognition we believe we deserve.

For these reasons, we do not take ownership of our work. For example, we still call ourselves “upcoming” with work that we actually do. This is simply because we do not have a certain number of followers on social media or are not part of the mainstream system. There is nothing wrong with learning as we go along. There is everything wrong with not acknowledging the amount of work we put into what we want to succeed in, however.

Getting a job in 2021 in South Africa is nearly impossible. Building a career from scratch, doing what you love and striving to make it work, is even more difficult. Therefore it is important that we fully own what we do, no matter how small it is. If we are writing scripts for YouTube shows, we need to own that and say it with confidence. If we are writing and performing in corners of our communities, we need to fully say that we are writers and performers. As clichéd as it may sound, we need to begin to understand that our lives and successes are in our hands; waiting for recognition and validation from other “greats” will only delay the service we should already be giving to the world.

It is no secret that building our lives as youth is a lot of work. It requires discipline, patience, commitment, proactivity, among a host of others, all blurry action words when we are young. We do not have anything figured out yet, no one does. The best we can do is simply own what we create and how we create it and remain open to growth.

The Mail & Guardian is committed to developing tomorrow’s Thought Leaders through writing and editorial partnerships with youth organisations such as Activate!


  • Selokela Molamodi is director of programmes at Speakingdom, a conversationalist, scriptwriter, concept developer and content creator. She is also a member of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers Network of over 4200 diverse young people driving change for the public good across South Africa