The winter of '76 led to momentous change

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

By Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe

June in South Africa generally signifies the start of winter; with the last vestiges of summer all but gone we settle in for months of bracing cold and darkness.  Winter has a rhythm all of its own, the trees shed their leaves and a feeling of change seems to sit tangibly in the air.

The winter of 1976 started like any other, but beneath the surface a revolution was brewing. The apartheid regime seemed to be at the height of its power, revolutionary organisations were banned and the iron fist of white minority rule was felt in every facet of society.

In the winter of 1976 any dream of democracy and change seemed out of reach. However, cracks were beginning to show in the veneer of normality that the apartheid regime sought to portray to the world.

When the youth of Soweto took to the streets in their thousands on 16 June they had no idea that their actions would spark such a national outcry and bolster international support for the struggle against   apartheid. 

The more than 15 000 students who gathered that day simply intended to march peacefully to protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at schools.

They were however, met with brutal and unrelenting force.  On that fateful day the first fatality was 12-year old Hector Pieterson, who was shot by the police.  It is believed that 175 others were also killed that day.

The blood of the innocents spilt on 16 June 1976 ignited a flame that eventually grew into an unstoppable inferno. This year marks 39 years since the uprising in Soweto. Since 1994 we have celebrated Youth Month in honour of the legacy of the Class of 1976.  The dreams of democracy and freedom of those students who took to the dusty streets of Soweto, armed with nothing but their courage now lives on in us.

Youth Month provides us with an opportunity to remember their selfless struggle.  We dare not forget that our democracy and the freedoms that many take for granted came at a terrible cost.

Our democratic breakthrough in 1994 allowed our nation to overcome apartheid, however the struggle for socio-economic freedom still rages on. The youth of 1976 stood firm in the face of an unrelenting onslaught on their freedoms. Today’s struggle is different to that of 1976. However, now more than ever we need the youth to play a central role in advancing our democracy. It is incumbent on this generation to take us forward and build on the ideals of a non-sexist, non-racist and democratic society.

Within our collective hands resides the power to build a society where all of our young people are valued and can fulfil their dreams of a better tomorrow.

South Africa in comparison with many other countries has a youthful population.  Throughout the world it is widely accepted that a youthful population is a positive for any nation. Our young people can be the engine that drives our future growth and development.

Within every nook and cranny of our nation are young people bursting with unfulfilled potential. Our nation must find ways to unleash the greatness that lies within them. The crippling legacy of apartheid cannot be allowed to crush the hopes and dreams of this present generation.

Together we must find ways to give every person the opportunity to live their dreams through hard work and dedication.  It begins with all of us promoting inclusive nation building and social cohesion.  All of us must fight to eliminate the inequalities, exclusions and disparities which still exist.  Twenty one years after democracy we still face divisions that are based on ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, age and disability.

As long as these divisions persist we will be saddled with the triple threat of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Addressing this legacy is our shared responsibility.

Government is doing all it can and has prioritised the advancement of young people so that they can take their rightful place in our society. We have implemented a raft of interventions to fight youth unemployment.

Initiatives such as the Social Accord on Youth Employment, Youth Employment Tax Incentive and our many other youth support programmes are changing lives.  In partnership with the private sector we have instituted the Employment Tax Incentive, which has allowed more young people to enter the workplace.

In the month that we pay homage to the Class of 1976 we must not forget about the struggles of this generation.  Together we can build a nation where all will flourish.



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