Youth needs say in SA’s fu­ture

The Mercury - - OPINION -

TO­MOR­ROW, 42 years ago, thou­sands of school pupils in Soweto took to the streets to protest against Bantu Ed­u­ca­tion. The tar­get of their march was com­pul­sory teach­ing in Afrikaans, the in­tro­duc­tion of a dual-medium sys­tem.

But their up­ris­ing was against much more than that. It was di­rected at Bantu Ed­u­ca­tion, Bantu Ad­min­is­tra­tion and all the other govern­ment de­part­ments sub­or­di­nat­ing them – at apartheid in its en­tirety.

Prime min­is­ter John Vorster’s govern­ment, shocked at the size and in­ten­sity of the un­rest, sent in po­lice un­trained and ill-equipped to deal with it. De­tec­tives still dressed in suits and ties were called in to re­in­force their uni­formed col­leagues, hastily draw­ing semi-au­to­matic as­sault ri­fles from po­lice ar­mouries.

In those weapons was lethal am­mu­ni­tion. The po­lice at that stage had no riot gear, no suit­able ve­hi­cles, no shields, no wa­ter can­nons, no rub­ber bul­lets, no suit­able un­rest bar­ri­cades and no bird­shot.

Tragedy was in­evitable that cold Wed­nes­day as the sons and daugh­ters of the op­pressed, surg­ing against in­jus­tice, were met by steely-eyed men who only knew force and were ready to use it.

Within hours, the up­ris­ing jumped like a cane fire across Jo­han­nes­burg to Alexan­dria. On Mon­day it ig­nited 60km to the north, in the Pretoria town­ships of Mabopane, At­teridgeville and Mamelodi. Soon it en­gulfed much of the coun­try.

Youth Day was created to hon­our the thou­sands of young­sters who took part in that ex­tended re­volt, which em­bold­ened the strug­gle against apartheid.

As Nel­son Man­dela put it on Youth Day in 1996: “You jolted the na­tion from its slum­ber, and re­jected the slave ed­u­ca­tion that the apartheid regime had im­ple­mented, with the hope of mak­ing blacks ac­cept their slav­ery.

“You changed the course of his­tory, and ac­cel­er­ated the down­fall of the apartheid sys­tem.”

But Youth Day is not only about mark­ing the past hero­ism of the young. While the youth of to­day do not face a dire govern­ment en­forced by trig­ger-men, new chal­lenges con­front them. The wordy theme of to­mor­row’s events, “Liv­ing the legacy: To­wards a so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally em­pow­ered youth”, sug­gests some of these prob­lems: ed­u­ca­tion, un­em­ploy­ment and poverty.

In many cases, our ail­ing ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, where more than half the pupils who start school drop out along the way, of­fers a ques­tion­able stan­dard of school­ing for those who ma­tric­u­late.

There is also the chronic youth un­em­ploy­ment rate, which dwarfs adult job­less­ness. Nei­ther reg­u­lar govern­ment laments, nor its nu­mer­ous strate­gies and projects over the years, have been able to re­duce it.

Em­pow­er­ing youth, there­fore, mak­ing them full share­hold­ers in the fu­ture South Africa, must be a na­tional pri­or­ity. What we should hear from govern­ment lead­ers to­mor­row is rein­ven­tion, some­thing dy­namic we have not heard be­fore. More of the same would be worth­less.

Our young cit­i­zens need hope, and concrete rea­sons to pur­sue their stud­ies and fur­ther them­selves. They need a say and a role in the fu­ture.

Hear­ing any­thing less to­mor­row than a start to that goal would make it just an­other public hol­i­day.

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