At what age does the concept of ‘youth’ end? It depends on who you ask

2018-06-15 19:17

The social perception of youth is as diverse as the human race itself.

For many, myself included, the term “youth” represents a diverse group of young people who live their lives with vigour, seeking thrills where none exist, embodying the spirit of adventure.

They move through time and space trying to figure out the whole “life thing”, trying to find themselves.

Some go with the flow, just winging it. Others fight to stay afloat, trying to keep up with their peers. And there are those who’ve just figured out what a scam “adulting” is and still celebrate little things like managing to pay the rent.

From the time you hit your teens until well into you late twenties, you’re part of a group of people with a collective understanding of what it means to be young, wild and free ... a stage in life where recklessness can be forgiven.

We can’t even entertain the negative assumptions about young people anymore – that they are at best unable to make decisions, have no ambitions and, at worst, are responsible for crime and violence.

The current climate attests to just how liberal and dynamic in their socioeconomic and political expression the youth is.

South Africa’s National Youth Policy, as well as its National Youth Commission Act (1996), define the youth as anybody between the ages of 14 and 35 years.

This is quite a very broad definition of youth and makes those eyebrows raised at certain ANC Youth League members even more justifiable.

According to the National Youth Policy, this age range is meant to embrace varied categories of the youth, which have been exposed to different sociopolitical and historical experiences.

“A 35-year-old youth lived during a period of heightened political conflicts, when he or she was a learner in school, while a 14-year-old youth is growing up in an environment when many of the new reforms and achievements of the struggles are being realised,” the policy states.

As the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and the DA’s Hlomela Bucwa have said more than once, it’s time that the government implement a more inclusive developmental plan directed at the youth, seeing that 20 million, of 55.9 million South Africans, are people aged between 15 and 35 and are not in education, training or employment.

It may be a good idea to deconstruct and refine the conceptual understanding of who a youth is in order for the said “new reforms” to benefit all accordingly.

ANC’s head of elections Fikile Mbalula said it himself last year during the party’s elective conference that the Youth League congress must consider “slashing” the age of its membership and leadership because 35 was too old.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in supporting this call.

If anything, it would be more reflective and appealing to the youth it claims to represent.

For now, though, we will all just have to live with the fact that the fountain of youth ends at 35.

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May 19 2019