Youth of to­day can learn from class of ‘76

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

JUNE 16, 1976 sig­nalled a de­ci­sive epoch in Strug­gle his­tory and cap­tured the unique role played by our youth in the Strug­gle for na­tional lib­er­a­tion and re­build­ing of a new South Africa.

It is now ac­cepted that ev­ery year on June 16 we pay trib­ute to the class of 1976, ei­ther by vis­it­ing the iconic grave of Hector Pi­eter­son in Soweto, to be­moan the cur­rent state of the youth or by hold­ing com­mem­o­ra­tive events, to rem­i­nisce and re­count the tragic events of that day.

What has not been told is that schol­ars have con­sis­tently ar­gued that the Soweto Up­ris­ing of June 16 owes its origins to the 1973 Dur­ban Strike.

By high­light­ing this, one is not try­ing to mis­ap­pro­pri­ate his­tory but con­nect­ing the dots. One of the prin­ci­pal lead­ers of the Dur­ban Strike was cel­e­brated trade union­ist and Com­mu­nist Jo­hannes Nkosi. This heroic strike led to the rebirth of pro­gres­sive, rad­i­cal and mil­i­tant trade union ac­tivism in South Africa, which in turn in­flu­enced the heroic youth of 1976.

The brav­ery of the youth of 1976 led to the swelling of the ranks of the lib­er­a­tion move­ments in ex­ile, bring­ing fresh vigour and adding tempo to the Strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion and peo­ple’s power.

It is no co­in­ci­dence of his­tory that the stu­dent-worker axis in the early 1980s re­ju­ve­nated pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and brought a breath of fresh air, which led to the for­ma­tion of the union fed­er­a­tion Cosatu and the United Demo­cratic Front (UDF).

It was through this axis that the Strug­gle was re­newed and the world paid at­ten­tion to bat­tle be­ing waged by the peo­ple of South Africa for a new or­der.

The images of jailed leader Nel­son Man­dela and dec­o­rated sym­bols of black, green and gold of the ANC were in­creas­ingly pro­filed and those in­volved in ac­tivism associated them­selves openly with the lib­er­a­tion move­ment, as led by the ANC.

This worker-stu­dent axis was a vi­tal cog in ren­der­ing the apartheid regime un­govern­able as called for by then ANC pres­i­dent Oliver Tambo in ex­ile.

PW Botha’s regime re­sponded to the up­ris­ing by declar­ing a state of emer­gency.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of ac­tivists were de­tained without trial; po­lice bru­tal­ity es­ca­lated; oth­ers dis­ap­peared without trace by their fam­i­lies, with many be­ing killed and buried in un­marked graves.

But the re­silience and stead­fast­ness of the youth brought hope to the op­pressed peo­ple of South Africa.

It is not sur­pris­ing that the heroic vic­tory of MPLA/MK joint forces against the apartheid SA De­fence Force at the Bat­tle of Cuito Cua­navale marked a wa­ter­shed moment, which height­ened the revo­lu­tion­ary seizure of power by the ANC in 1994.

The das­tardly as­sas­si­na­tion of Chris Hani forced the apartheid regime to con­cede de­feat, even though his tragic killing was meant to plunge the coun­try into a civil war. From Boipa­tong (Sed­ibeng) to eMbum­bulu (south of Dur­ban), the youth was armed and ready to avenge Hani’s death. He oc­cu­pied a spe­cial place of pride, com­manded re­spect and was an ex­em­plary fig­ure among the work­ing class and poor youth.

The fight­ing youth still had deep scars and un­healed wounds since it was at the re­ceiv­ing end of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence that marred the coun­try dur­ing the ne­go­ti­at­ing pe­riod to estab­lish a demo­cratic South Africa. A num­ber of youth ac­tivists lost their lives in vi­o­lent skir­mishes be­tween the ANC and Inkatha Free­dom Party fac­tions, no­tably in Gaut­eng and KwaZulu-Natal. At the height of the con­flict, ar­eas were re­garded as “no-go” zones.

Since the ne­go­ti­ated po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of 1994, the nascent demo­cratic state, as led by the ANC, de­clared June 16 a pub­lic hol­i­day in re­mem­brance of those who per­ished on that fate­ful day and sub­se­quently to recog­nise dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of youth who have left an in­deli­ble mark in his­tory and played a heroic role in the Strug­gle.

Of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance, there has been a grow­ing layer of youth drawn from sec­tions of a rapidly up­wardly mo­bile black mid­dle class and an emerg­ing sec­tion of the black cap­i­tal­ist class.

Un­like the 1976 youth, which was united to fight the op­pres­sive apartheid sys­tem, the new demo­cratic con­di­tions have been ac­com­pa­nied by var­i­ous as­pi­ra­tions and in­ter­ests of the youth of to­day.

Th­ese find ex­pres­sion in so­cial and eco­nomic stand­ing; those youth from a mid­dle class or cap­i­tal­ist back­ground have greater op­por­tu­ni­ties, such as a bet­ter life, ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, health and they are eas­ily ab­sorbed in the job mar­ket, whereas the youth from a work­ing class and poor back­ground are con­fronted by the harsh re­al­i­ties as a re­sult of in­fe­rior ed­u­ca­tion, a col­laps­ing pub­lic health­care sys­tem, poverty and un­der­de­vel­op­ment.

In South Africa to­day, 48% of the youth be­tween the ages of 15 and 34 are un­em­ployed, amid the chal­lenges of racialised poverty, deep­en­ing in­equal­ity and an es­ca­lat­ing un­em­ploy­ment rate.

What is more con­cern­ing, since the eco­nomic melt­down or fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008 up to 2015, is that the num­ber of youth that are too dis­cour­aged to search for em­ploy­ment in­creased by a stag­ger­ing 8%.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing this ugly re­al­ity is an econ­omy that is shed­ding mas­sive jobs in the min­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors.

Equally, those lucky to be em­ployed are seized with the so­cio-eco­nomic bur­den of hav­ing a re­spon­si­bil­ity to feed and take care of the large army that is rav­aged by hunger and poverty, mainly in work­ing class and poor house­holds.

Even though sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances have been made by the demo­cratic state to im­prove the lives of young peo­ple and ac­cord them a bet­ter fu­ture, our stub­born econ­omy’s in­abil­ity to cre­ate much­needed jobs for the youth con­tin­ues to be a big chal­lenge.

It is within this con­text that the youth of to­day must heed Man­dela’s words: “I have a wish to make. Be the scriptwrit­ers of your des­tiny and fea­ture your­selves as stars that showed the way to­wards a brighter fu­ture.”

This calls on the youth of to­day not only to be “scriptwrit­ers of their des­tiny” but also to en­gage in strug­gles for the at­tain­ment of the goals of the Free­dom Char­ter as a “way to­wards a brighter fu­ture”.

It is an un­de­ni­able fact that the fu­ture of the coun­try’s youth lies within the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Free­dom Char­ter by our demo­cratic state.

As dic­tated in the Free­dom Char­ter, the break­ing down of mo­nop­oly in­dus­tries in strate­gic sec­tors to al­low greater par­tic­i­pa­tion and own­er­ship by the black ma­jor­ity, pro­vi­sion of free higher ed­u­ca­tion and re­dis­tri­bu­tion of land can lead sig­nif­i­cantly to­wards the cre­ation of de­cent jobs and an end to eco­nomic ex­clu­sion and marginal­i­sa­tion of the youth.

This re­quires the youth to or­gan­ise it­self as a crit­i­cal and lead­ing voice in so­ci­ety and force­fully push for a pol­icy shift and in­tro­duc­tion of pro­gres­sive re­forms that ad­vance the key de­mands of the Free­dom Char­ter.

As as­tute thinker and revo­lu­tion­ary fig­ure Frantz Fanon wrote: “Each gen­er­a­tion must, out of rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity, dis­cover its mis­sion, ful­fil it, or be­tray it.” Just like the gen­er­a­tion of 1976 which had right­fully “dis­cov­ered its mis­sion”, and fought gal­lantly against a sys­tem that was de­clared a crime against hu­man­ity, apartheid, the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion has a revo­lu­tion­ary obli­ga­tion and duty to “dis­cover its mis­sion, ful­fil it, or be­tray it”. His­tory is on the side of the youth!

This gen­er­a­tion has a duty to dis­cover and ful­fil its mis­sion

Le­bo­gang Maile is Gaut­eng MEC for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, Agri­cul­ture, En­vi­ron­ment and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment and an ANC pro­vin­cial ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

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