YOU SEE it everywhere — no under 25’s, or “only applicable to 35 and under”, the new age discrimination, aka ageism. A sign that South Africa is growing-up, or growing younger, or simply moving sideways? After dealing with racial discrimination it seems that we have found other things to discriminate against. Petulant youths who have never experienced apartheid and who see the older generation as cultural dinosaurs; intellectual has-beens from 1976 who need to be pensioned off; state-of-emergency drop-outs from 1989 who refuse to be a part of the market, no matter what?
Then there are the well-meaning comrades who keep fighting for the “rights of the youth” forgetting that they have long since retired into the ranks of the middle aged. Greedy, advertisers who keep trying to sucker the next generation, forgetting that we’ve never had a 13-and-under target market in this country before. It could take years before anybody realises the sacrifices being made to social cohesion and historical continuity.
Age discrimination is not only self-serving but short-sighted. While it makes sense for banks to hook new customers with free internet banking, overdraft facilities and credit cards, doing this along an invisible generational divide separating South Africa’s new 20-somethings from their older 30-something counterparts creates a new age-based friction in society that while imitating the old cleavages of the past, forgets that there is a backlog of grievances stretching back to the very first time the apartheid government started waging war against the youth, in the streets of Soweto, 1976. We also ignore at our peril the next generation which came of age during the State of Emergency only to find themselves in a freeze of isolation and the grip of sanctions and a cultural boycott that only began to lift after the Berlin Wall, came down in 1989.
The only discrimination in civil society allowed by our constitution are “measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination,” in other words, one may discriminate only as part of a pro-active measure designed to alleviate prejudice. Ageism is clearly a form of prejudice and the only age distinctions made by our common law are between minors and legal persons, and of course the tricky boundaries separating the age of consent and the vote.
Why then do South African’s insist on achieving new forms of discrimination? Is it that we yearn after a certain form of prejudice? Something to liven-up our lives that would otherwise become dull and meaningless without teen scamming, lying youths and adult self-deceit? Perhaps if we get rid of ageism, they will bring in some other form of parallel discrimination, take fashion for example, ever wondered why some people insist on wearing bow-ties?
[Copyleft 2005, some rights reserved, reprint with permission]
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