Liberation is here to be enjoyed

AS FATE would have it, many people found themselves torn between the solemnity of Youth Day commemorations and the World Cup brouhaha on Wednesday.

AS FATE would have it, many people found themselves torn between the solemnity of Youth Day commemorations and the World Cup brouhaha on Wednesday.

What's a person to do in such a dilemma? Do you quietly mourn the hundreds who died on that epochal day on June 16 1976 and its aftermath, or do you join in the soccer festivities, armed with a vuvuzela.

As usual, the media carried views critical of merrymaking on the day. Yet again, the youth were lambasted for not appreciating the sacrifices made by those who laid down their lives to liberate the country.

Familiarly strong language was used. Revellers were accused of pissing on the graves of the dead.

"The youth have forgotten that were it not for the class of 1976, black people would have remained kitchen girls and garden boys... Today's youth see Youth Day as an opportunity to relax at home and have fun," stated an article in Sowetan on the day.

Were you to ask me if I agree with the sentiment or not, you'd most likely get one of those yes-no answers that needs elaboration.

A huge part of me believes June 16 and similar days such as March 21 - which marks the 1960 Sharpeville massacre - should be accorded the importance they deserve. We should, on these days, honour those who paid the ultimate price for our liberty.

How we do that is another matter. Many people, especially those old enough to have such events deeply etched in their minds - either through personal experience or personal loss - would prefer dignified commemoration. To them celebration is sacrilegious.

They lament what they call our collective short memory, often pointing out with envy the centrality of history among other nations. They have particular admiration for Jews, who still remember the Holocaust of more than 60 years ago as if it were yesterday.

The logic here is that Africans have been so dehumanised by oppression that they have come to view their lives as less valuable, thus not worth commemorating.

Well, I beg to differ. Could it be that we are different? That we are imbued with the incredible ability to value painful history without being beholden to it?

I shudder to think what would have become of our country if black people woke up every day with thoughts of almost four centuries of colonial oppression and white domination weighing heavily on their minds.

I say this fully cognisant of the importance of history. It is replete with terrible deeds humanity would do well not to repeat.

One such lesson is that we dare not dictate to people how they should live their lives or spend their time.

It would help a great deal if we all remembered that though the June 16 uprising 34 years ago was sparked by the imposition of Afrikaans - then the oppressors' language - as a medium of instruction, they were also about the right to choice and self-determination.

If we remember that it would hardly be surprising that some people choose to spend such important national days either shopping or partying.

There would be no need to be apoplectic because some people ditched commemoration services to enjoy the World Cup, which is one of the most tangible fruits of liberation.

For my part, I'm glad I don't live in a country like Somalia, where two people were killed by the religious organisation Al Shabbab for watching soccer tournaments on television after the extremists had banned the pastime as "unIslamic". This, by the way, is the same bunch who flog women for wearing bras because the garments provide unnatural support for their assets.