In the course of 2001, the South African Broadcast Corporation, South Africa’s public broadcaster, screened the second part of a television series aimed at the youth market called Yizo, Yizo.
As with its first iteration, the series was a runaway success among young black people. Older people, on the other hand, particularly the religious community and segments of the political world, were outraged. They found the explicitsexual abuse, rape and the violence presented in the series offensive and degrading. Young people’s responses were that what was being shown was what their everyday lives were all about.
Many commentators were to agree that the series was provocative and did indeed raise the difficult issues of what a public broadcaster ought to be airing, the issues of censorship and a whole host of other questions. There was little question though about the reality that Yizo, Yizo sought to portray. Graeme Simpson, the Director for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg argued:
Yizo, Yizo … presents a challenge to those who romanticise youth politics and identity in our country, largely by reference to statistics that reassure about the values, culture and social commitment of many young people, but which hide from view the size of the youth community who are in fact at risk (The Sunday Independent 2001).
The dimensions of this risk are now well known. Recent surveys carried out by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in 2002 among a random sample of 2,000 respondents aged 12–17 years – the South African National Youth Survey (SANYS) (2000) – and the ambitious Barbarin and Richter (2001) study of almost 2,800 children born in the first half of 1990 in the Soweto–Johannesburg area, illustrate many of the issues of which Simpson is speaking. The issues have also been extensively canvassed in special issues of the Development Update (2000), a journal of the South African National NGO Coalition and Interfund.
This article seeks to understand the circumstances of what one might call ‘growing up’ in South Africa. In the first part, it looks at some features of youth life in South Africa and attempts to understand the socio-economic forces behind these features. In the second part, it looks at youth responses to the context in which they find themselves. Drawing together the two parts, the article makes the argument that growing up in South Africa is for most a journey of a dream denied, if not betrayed. Inspired by the vision of the new South Africa, their hope and faith is tested each day as they and their parents struggle to make ends meet.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.1 (2004) Routes to Adulthood: Becoming a Young Adult in the New South Africa