On June 16 1976, thousands of students, mobilised by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s Action Committee, with the support of the Black Consciousness Movement, took to the streets to protest the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.
It was also a protest against Bantu education. Students marched to Orlando Stadium in Soweto. They were met with violence from the oppressive apartheid regime. Police opened fire, killing 120 (although it is said that more than 700 died over the next few days). The protests galvanised the youth nationally and fuelled the recruitment of activists to the broader liberation movement, including the ANC.
Their actions galvanised the fight against the white Nationalist Party, both locally and internationally. That was 46 years ago. This week, as the country honours those who gave their lives to fuel the liberation struggle, questions must be asked about how South Africa’s youth are valued today and how their contribution to creating a thriving nation is being supported or not.
The answers are dark and unpleasant. In this week’s pages of City Press, students speak about the lack of support from government, how their voices are not heard and how their future has been stripped by decades of corruption and neglect – both pre- and post-liberation.
The youth unemployment level, already one of the highest (if not the highest) in the world, is a damning indictment of how we value our future leaders. Government’s and broader society’s patent inability to include the ideas of the country’s youngsters and their needs for the future into their governance and planning exacerbate the sense of exclusion.
For young people, the vibrancy of opposition and conscious militancy has been eroded. Perhaps it is time for another uprising. Perhaps it is time for South Africa’s youngsters to demand a seat at the table of power. Nothing less will do.