Youth needs say in SA’s future
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.