To be young, gifted and Black is where it’s at! : An ode to Black youth

By Thato Magano

Thato Magano argues that the increased militancy by Black youth throughout the world has excited Blackness in ways we haven’t seen in the contemporary moment and signifies the thawing of a frozen moment we have been stuck in for the past twenty years.


I don’t know when it happened.

Perhaps it was the insistence of UCT students that Rhodes go down, or the insistence of Wits students demanding that fees cease to be a consideration in our education system or the increasing militancy from middle class South Africans that has continued to shake at the foundations of the ‘negotiated settlement’ that is democratic South Africa.

Young people in South Africa are demanding their right to the fullness of their humanity, they are upsetting the status quo in ways unimaginable in order to challenge the construction of whiteness that continues to make white people ‘fragile’ and worthy of protection while black people continue to be relegated to the status of unimportance. They are challenging the tenets on which whiteness has negotiated its comfort at the expense of black people.

Perhaps it is the twenty years of subjugation that have continued into the ‘promised land’ or the injustice at the ridiculousness of freedom fighters who are still locked up in our ‘democratic’ prison system while perpetrators of apartheid crimes continue to roam the streets, chair foundations and lecture at universities whilst they have blood on their hands, armed with the audacity to suggest that the militancy shown by Black South Africans can be equated to acts of the mythical ‘reverse racism’, a figment of the imagination only to exist in the minds of those who are seeing the base shift, who are witnessing everyday their illegitimate power and sense of superiority being stripped away and finding this reality unbearable to comprehend.

Perhaps it is the energy and spirit of a shifting narrative of Blackness in the world, that Black people in the North and the South have collectively risen up to say no more, to say that the struggle for the emancipation of all Black people in the world is one that will be fought together. That #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName or #FeesMustFall are all a continuum of the same struggle, are a rallying call to every person of African descent to declare boldly and proudly that they will stand up against a system that excludes them from equally participating in it while the machinery and infrastructure that maintains this system is built off of their backs and that they are deserving of every bit of the dividends of this system as those it has been ‘captured’ to serve and protect.

Perhaps it is the realisation, finally that it is not deals where economic transference of resources while the ownership structures remain intact that will lead to the economic utopia we were led to believe would be the ultimate salvation for the Black nation. That in South Africa, the foundation that was laid by the liberation movement and freedom fighters was not the end of the road but rather the beginning of an entry point to the fullest realisation of the ideal for the liberation of Black people.

Perhaps even, it is that in a time when we have been left feeling abandoned by the arts, searching for a Miriam Makeba of our time, when we have been nurtured by the likes of Simphiwe Dana in her invocation of Biko to move us to this moment, that we have been left bewildered by Black artistry, the world over, in that it has not been as vocal as it could have on the conditions of Black people in the world, that it would be the biggest pop star in the world to ask us to get into ‘Formation’ so that we practise a politics of resistance that is about asserting our presence and our worth to the world.

Perhaps so, it is even that we are searching for a Bantu Biko of our times, for the one who will take from the long history of proud Black men and women, who will take from the traditions of Marcus Garvey, Assata Shakur, Julius Nyerere, Angela Davis, Thomas Sankara or Nomzamo Madikizela and ask difficult questions of our people while also advancing us towards the project for total liberation.

That, perhaps, it is the many radical young black women, young black queer persons, and young black non-binary persons who have taken on these traditions and have resisted the oppressive systems of illegitimate power that have been made possible by the racist, sexist nature of the capitalist traditions throughout the global south.

That perhaps, our liberation as a people will not be the fruits of one man, that the moment for a hero to save us all has passed and that collectively, the struggle is ours and that we will only win it when we come to it together, as equals.

Perhaps, it could be that young black people are finally realising the refrain from Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ that indeed, ‘there are billion young boys and girls that are young, gifted and black, that ‘there is a world out there waiting for them’ and that there is a ‘quest that’s just begun where our souls are intact.’

But whenever it happened, whatever it is, whatever this energy and shift is, whatever the combination of factors are that have led to its permeation throughout the Black experience in the world, it could not have come at a better time.

It could not have come at a more appropriate time than when the world is searching for its meaning, for its relevance, when the systems that have continued to uphold it seem to be falling apart, creating the perfect moment for the marginalised of the world to stand up and reclaim the reconstitution and construction of these systems and institutions of relationality.

Whatever it is, whatever is emboldening young black people in South Africa, in America, in the global South, whatever the energy is, as another young Black person who has been emboldened by this energy to say that the expropriation of land without compensation is the mission of our lifetime, I am most certainly grateful for it.

It has excited Blackness in ways we haven’t seen in the contemporary moment, it is thawing the frozen moment we have been stuck in for the past twenty years and making us realise that we did not win anything, that 1994 was not a victory but rather a pacification of the energies of our parents and that here, in this moment, we will carry the torch forth and never again allow whiteness to safeguard itself in that manner.

As Nina Simone ends her song:

“Oh but my joy of today/
Is that we can all be proud to say/
To be young, gifted and black/
Is where it’s at”

Indeed, to be young gifted and Black today is where it’s at!

  1. I salute you with all the energies I possess. Educate us to be better African people/community; to understand ourselves, celebrate and be PROUD of who we are. African people whereever they are have contributed too much to the development of this world family. Africa as a continent contributes more to World Resources than any other continent and has done so for centuries. Where are these resources? Why are Africans people have to borrow, beg or steal??? Africans everywhere, Britain, America, Haiti, Africa etc,
    are OUR FAMILY in slavery.

    Educate us and each other by demistifying the multiple versions of Mental slavery, so that we have enough collective energies to take OFF OUR CHAINS !!!

  2. my heart is soaring. I’m so proud of my peers. we have found our struggle. the revolution will be tweeted.

    Mvumikazi Urban Mnguni

  3. Students at forthare, unitra, mangosuthu have been fighting all along. The students at wits and UCT finally had a wake up call and we are thankful to the all mighty

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