Reigniting the spirit of 1976

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It has been 38 years since the youth of South Africa marched in all parts of the country – their steps directing and leading them on a journey toward a better education, a better South Africa and a better life.

With the commemoration of June 16 upon us, the images of young bodies strewn in the streets of Soweto still resonate in the minds of many – but it was not in vain, writes Bathandwa Mbola.

The deafening silence of death, the fading smoke of guns, the rivers of tears that flowed in communities -  all these images come rushing back to remind us of the terrible past from which we come.  And despite the horror and turmoil – the sorrow fades, to be replaced with a glowing picture of heroism of our youth and a determination that never again shall guns be pointed on our youth or anyone else simply because they dare hope for a better future.

Many of those who bravely took that journey did not live to see a free South Africa. Others were forced into exile while many served lengthy jail times for their part in the 1976 June uprisings.

Today, the fruit of their journey can be found in our democracy, but the struggle is far from over.

Twenty years into this hard-won democracy, in a post-Apartheid South Africa, young people face the task of identifying and defining the societal challenges embedded in the womb of our era. Ours is a different, but equally important struggle.

We no longer have to physically fight against an oppressive government, but we face the legacies of poverty, crime and socio-economic inequalities.

One of our biggest battles is also that of striving for equality in education – an absolute imperative if we are to ensure that we can enjoy economic freedom, alongside hard-won political freedoms.

The critical question we should ask ourselves as the youth of South Africa is whether we all have a common understanding and vision of the struggles into which the energies of the youth need to be channelled?

We need to ask ourselves: What kind of youth consciousness do we need today to address the kind of issues that are brought about by a free and non-racial society? And what kind of youth do we need today in post-apartheid South Africa, 20 years into our freedom?

I raise these  questions because as young people today, during this period of building a united, non-racial and non-sexist society, we need to cultivate a clear understanding of the kind of socio-economic conditions we will inevitably pass on to the next generation.

More than ever before, the challenges of reconstruction and development of our country cannot be tackled effectively without a deepened understanding of existing societal issues. We know what they are. Drugs and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, HIV and Aids and other diseases, illiteracy, women and child abuse …..and the list goes on.  

As we commemorate this year’s June 16, the task at hand for South African youth is to mobilise our collective energies to advance the transformation of our country, and to build a united and prosperous nation.

This task will not be easy. But it has to be accomplished, lest we, collectively as society, betray the legacy, values and vision that have, over the years of struggle, given shape and meaning to the character of the South Africa that the 1976 generation sought to create.

As young people who will rightfully claim the future, we need to begin now to re-imagine reality. We need to begin now to roll our sleeves to work and move South Africa forward.

We need to begin now to understand the challenges that undermine the yearnings of the people of South Africa, Africa and the world. This will help us remove ourselves from the trap of poverty, under-development and inequality.

I firmly believe that inter-generational dialogue is critical if we are to achieve this shift.

Although some may argue that the central fault line in South African society today is between generations, there is much to be learned through encouraging conversations between generations that promote deeper insight into behaviours and actions, and in which knowledge and experiences are shared.

Examining and recognising connections and inter-dependencies between generations is important for both the activists of yesterday and those of today and tomorrow.

I am of the view that it is through deep meaningful engagements with youth that concerted efforts can be made to move away from a homogenous narrative based on threat, to igniting and harnessing the transformative power that South Africa’s youth hold.

Government is already transforming this country into something better, providing the necessary policies for change, implementing action plans so that the youth of our country will not only dream about a better future but also use knowledge and skills to make that dream of a better life a reality.

The National Development Plan (NDP) provides us with an opportunity to work together to confront our challenges like reducing unemployment, inequality and poverty by 2030.

The plan promotes enhanced competitiveness, expanded infrastructure, greater spatial efficiency in growing cities, and accelerated rural development. It prioritises measures to build a capable, effective state that delivers services to citizens while encouraging business investment and growth.

The NDP is about the future.  It requires a commitment and participation of all of South Africa's youth to change the present as we map out our future.

It is upon us to look at the document and find out how we can make it work and how it can actually enhance our opportunities in skills development, in training, in improving the quality of life for all.

As the youth we should take personal responsibility to improve our circumstances. Young people need and deserve to be recognised as the powerful agents of social transformation and change.

We must have the discipline, initiative and focus to conquer adversity and become productive citizens.

Let’s do it for Hastings Ndlovu, Solomon Mahlangu, Hector Petersen, Mbuyisa Makhubu, Steve Biko and all our departed heroes and heroines.  The youth of our country must answer the call to take forward the gains of our democracy and to help us to attain our goals of development.

We should remember the youth of 1976 because they have left us a lesson that it is possible for young people to stand up and confront the challenges facing them.

This youth month, we should remember them, because they have left a legacy of bravery and determination in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable difficulties.

For the sake of our communities, our country and our continent, this call must spread far and wide from Soweto to Mamelodi, Gugulethu to Inanda and from Mafikeng to Mannenburg.

Let us together, as the youth, lend a hand to move South Africa forward. –

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