Our young democracy is not so young and even if we are to accept its youthfulness we also need to accept that it will not be young forever.
Given this sentiment, it becomes alarming to know the rate at which we are moving, not only in terms of political and economic progression, but also in terms of dealing with social issues and related social constructs.
For a person as young as me, it is terrifying to hear how my black peers still associate their race with a preconceived hierarchical structure, putting themselves at the very bottom. We are supposed to be a generation free from the shackles that confined those young people who came before us.
Instead, we find ourselves in the same place as them.
Yes, policies are more favourable towards previously disadvantaged groups and it is true that there are greater opportunities for young people to thrive and succeed.
But what is promoted in the legislature is not reflected in the thinking of young people.
We still see ourselves as beneath other races. We place ourselves below the desired line of equality. For some young people, their foremost goal is to be on the same level as other races. While the other racial groups set themselves up to thrive, we place ourselves at their starting point.
This is not how it should be, nor is this the kind of thinking that we should condone. I must admit that other racial groups have an advantage over us because of previous inequalities. But we need to realise that this does not make us any less capable than they are.
For example, from an early age it is accepted that Indian pupils outdo other pupils simply because they are Indian. This shows how we measure success along racial lines. We ignore the fact that perhaps those Indian pupils work hard for those marks. As we put other races on top we subliminally place ourselves below them.
This is an injustice to the liberation fought for by the youth of 1976. They not only fought for our freedom from inferior education, from political and economic exclusion, from unfair laws that suppressed, they also fought for our thinking to be free and for better access to resources. It is insulting to turn a blind eye to our own potential. Yes, policies and laws are there as measures of redress, but they will achieve very little if our thinking runs dissimilarly.
So how do we turn our situation around? What role can we play to reduce our unemployment rate to align with that of our Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese counterparts in the Brics bloc? How do we advance ourselves from oppression already fought and won?
First, we need to change our approach from being focused on other racial groups to being more concerned about where we are as black people.
We need to gauge ourselves by much more valid quotas. When we fail we should not look at what race the winning person is, but rather assess what they did and how prepared they were.
In this way, you leave that examination room or interview knowing why you fell short and realising that it’s possible to improve by working on those flaws, rather than thinking that race determined the outcome, which will leave you feeling hopeless because you can do nothing about your race.
Above all else, we need to be true to ourselves. We need to be able to look at the truth dead straight in the eyes and not turn away because it is too piercing for us to handle. We are on very uneven playing fields, but un-even does not mean we cannot win. We have the mental faculties and our government and its tools are ready for use, so let us use them.
We should rely not on government, but on ourselves. Government should be a further propellant and not our only hope.
Last, realise that we are responsible for our own fate, that no one else can progress us but ourselves, individually and as a collective. So gather in your numbers and speak truth to those in need of hearing it. Bring the nation to a halt if you must, but only if you believe it will make a difference, only if it is your last resort. Otherwise there is much work to be done, many wrongs to be corrected, and our fates to turn around.
Banele Simelane is an 18-year-old patriot