June 2016 1st Edition

Moving our youth forward

The second stanza of our National Anthem opens with the words “Morena boloka sechaba sa heso (Lord, we ask you to protect our nation), which are particularly meaningful as we observe Youth Month 2016 this June.

Heroes like Hector Pieterson, Hasting Ndlovu lost their lives in the 1976 Soweto Uprising so that the youth of today can have a better life.Morena boloka sechaba sa heso were the words on the lips of learners outside Phefeni Junior Secondary School on Wednesday, June 16 1976, when police provoked young people resisting the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of classroom instruction.

In turn, the police fired teargas and live ammunition, fatally wounding 15-year-old Hastings Ndlovu and 13-year-old Hector Pieterson in the process.

The death of Hastings Ndlovu is not as familiar as that of Hector Pieterson, due to media not being on the scene to capture Hastings Ndlovu’s death in the way that Hector Pieterson’s was immortalised by the photographer Sam Nzima.

The two teenagers died within a short while of each other at the start of what we commemorate today as the Soweto Uprising; an uprising that not only exposed the international community to the brutality of the apartheid regime, but inspired renewed resistance among young people all over our country.

The image of Hector Pieterson’s collapse from his bullet wound live on in an iconic photograph showing a then 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying the dying Hector in his arms, with Hector’s shocked sister, Antoinette (17) running alongside towards the photographer’s car.

Our country has honoured the bravery and resilience of the youth of 1976 by declaring June 16 as Youth Day and adopting June as a month during which we focus South Africans’ attention on the progress and challenges experienced by the youth of our nation.

Our respect for the sacrifices made by young people 40 years ago in 1976 and in the 18 years that led to the democratic transition in 1994 is also reflected in the R23 million Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto which is now a major tourist attraction.

Four decades after the Soweto Uprising, the democratic South Africa of 2016 is committed to moving our youth forward in line with our National Development Plan which views our young people – and their education and future wellbeing – as our most important national asset.

The building of new schools and universities; the diversity of graduates emerging from our institutions of higher education and training; the dynamic contribution of young people in our workplaces and the vibrancy of our popular culture shows us how our young people have progressed under democracy.

At the same time, though, we feel the pain of young people who are unemployed, regardless of their educational qualifications; we are pained also by the fact that HIV continues to affect young people and particularly young women in their teens and early 20s.

And we are disturbed that young people are concerned more with what they have than who they are as persons, and are falling prey to a culture of “blessers” and “blessees” who exchange intimate favours for material goods and cash.

We are even more concerned as a nation when students raise legitimate demands – such as reductions in study fees – but pursue those legitimate demands with illegal actions, such as burning educational facilities that government built using taxes paid by learners’ parents.

We are concerned also when communities that have issues to raise with government or with the private sector affect the future of our children by wrecking schools and health facilities that cost billions of rands to restore, while young people lose out on education.

Every month or year lost in a young person’s education is another month or year that such a person is carried by their family, community and – inevitably – the state.

In our current economic conditions, especially, we cannot afford to ruin opportunities for young people, and we cannot have young people squander the opportunities that are presented to them from the cradle to the grave in our society.

When Hector Pieterson collapsed on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi streets, he paid the price for challenging an illegitimate regime whose care and concern was reserved only for white South Africans.

Fourty years later, young people in South Africa are part of a caring society where government and communities work together to create a better future for all of us.

One example of such a partnership is the Congress of South African Students’ Learn Without Fear programme, which is aimed at highlighting safety issues in our schools.

The programme addresses such issues as learners carrying weapons to school, bullying and the use of alcohol and drugs.

Born out of the spirit of resistance of 1976, COSAS provides an example in 2016 of how young people ought to take an active interest in improving their lives.

Young people are not meant to be passive observers in our society; instead, they must champion their own future by making the most responsible choices in their lives and being active partners in building a better South Africa for the future.

If all of us did this, we will ensure that when we sing Morena boloka sechaba sa heso, South Africa will indeed be a country that is worthy of divine protection and abundant prosperity.

Four decades after the Soweto Uprising, the democratic South Africa of 2016 is committed to moving our youth forward in line with our National Development Plan which views our young people – and their education and future wellbeing – as our most important national asset.

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