June 16 is a historical and a very significant day for the people of South Africa, particularly the youth. This is a day to reflect and honour the youth that was ambushed by the apartheid regime police in Soweto on 16 June 1976 whose human dignity was stripped off brutally, because it was on this day that they took to the streets to protest against the enforcement of the use of Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction for teaching and learning in schools, which was imposed by the apartheid regime.
The 1976 Soweto Uprising is now regarded as a turning point of youth in South Africa because this era marked the beginning of various youth organisations including the Black Consciousness Movement, and many other organisations that played a critical role and became active in the 1980s. This again, is an important reminder that Youth Day serves not only as a reminder of the role of the youth in the liberation struggle, but also of the critical importance of young people as agents of change in the country.
The events of 16 June 1976 highlight a few individuals who took part in the Soweto Uprising. Therefore as we commemorate this day, we acknowledge the challenges that the youth of today still struggle with, because they continue to occupy a special space in our history. In 2015, we have witnessed university students launched a movement called ‘Fees Must Fall’ highlighting the financial constraints they go through at their institutions of learning. The movement became a international ideology and attracted even students from countries such as UK at the Oxford University to also raise their concerns at their own institutions of learning. So essentially, the youth of 1976 was fighting against the Bantu Education, which was inferior policy in schools. Now we see the youth of today fighting against fees and exclusion of learning. And in the midst of all these, we have also seen so many violations of the rights of these students by the police and also by the universities themselves. Students could not express themselves and assemble around their campuses; and therefore it is worrying that the constitution has safeguarded these principles and rights on paper, but it becomes a challenge when they must be practiced. For example, the constitution is explicit about duty of the government to secure the well-being of the people of the Republic of South Africa, section 41 (b) , be loyal to the Constitution, the Republic and its people (d).
42 years since the Soweto uprisings, critical issue among the youth include socioeconomic challenges. Young people still struggle with getting education, which is the most important asset they should acquire. Unemployment, inequality, gender-based violence and social security; and they also experience threats and brutal attacks when they form and/or join civil society organisations, trade unions of their choice or aligning themselves with political issues and raising their concerns on maladministration in governance. And until these issues are addressed and protection provided for the youth, they remain disempowered and demotivated to become the forces of change and development in this country. This generation of youth stands at the border-line of oppression and transformation, and until their social and economic needs are fulfilled then the transformation and reconstruction will not be sustained. The task of improving young people’s lives in the rural areas, townships, informal settlements must remain a collective commitment by all in South Africa, including state institutions, communities, corporations, traditional and religious sectors. Young people in townships, informal settlements and rural communities still live in inhuman and degrading conditions that defy description. Issues of crime, drug abuse and scourge of violence are what young people deal with on a daily basis in disadvantaged communities; and these are people that need to be prioritised on better living conditions if they are to shape the future of this country. Informal settlements such as Zandspruit and Diepsloot in North of Johannesburg, Tshepisong location in the West Rand continue to face a myriad social and economic challenges; and the most significant issues in informal settlements are abject poverty, quality health care, sanitation, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, lack of skills, access to capital and social security. National institutions such as Chapter 9 Institutions, NYDA, SALGA, Department of Women, Department of Social Development need to find multidimensional strategies for sustainable measures to deal with these human and societal problems persisting amongst the youth.
For further discussion, contact Mamphule Ntladi
HURISA Assistant Programme Officer: email@example.com
072 836 4654