As we prepare to mark Youth Day in June, it is important to pay homage to the young people of 1976, but also to acknowledge and recognise the youth of the present.
The fighting spirit of South African youth lives on not only in the memory of the Soweto Uprising but every day of every year.
On 16 June 1976 more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march for better education. In the wake of clashes with the police and the violence that followed during the next few weeks, approximately 700 hundred people, many of them youths, were killed and property destroyed.
One of those killed on 16 June was Hector Pieterson who Sam Nzima photographed being carried by another student while his sister ran beside them.
This celebrated picture would later come to symbolise the uprising and an in-your-face symbol of the ruthlessness of apartheid to the world. Considering this, I am convinced that the youth of 2013 are very different to the 1976 pupils who gathered in Vilakazi Street Soweto. But are they?
Young South Africans struggle tirelessly to create opportunities for themselves and their families.
Currently there are approximately 6.1 million young South Africans who are searching for some form of decent employment. Their hopes are often dashed by a labour market unable to absorb young, inexperienced workers.
Yes, the NYDA may have created more than 28 000 jobs in the last three years. Yes, the NYDA may have provided career guidance services to more than 1 million young people and provided over 110 bursaries.
Yes, the NYDA may have issued more than 33 000 loans to micro, small and medium enterprises. But the harsh reality is that these figures are but a drop in the ocean. Much more needs to be done. How much more though? Can the NYDA deliver more than the 6 million opportunities to those youth in need? No, it cannot, at least not in the next three years or even 10 years for that matter.
Ultimately the success of the NYDA and its programmes depends on the active participation of young people in their own development. More young people need to join the NYDA’s National Youth Service Programme and contribute to youth volunteerism.
More young people need to establish youth cooperative enterprises in their communities focusing on different areas of the economy. More young people need to become agents of change. With this in mind, I urge all government departments, private sector and civil society organisations to consider the youth of 1976 on Youth Day 2013, but keep the youth of 2013 at the fore of their reflections.
Consider the young person that has the capabilities to qualify as a chemical engineer, biochemist or marine biologist but has no resources to study or the high school pupil who is heading his or her household with four or five siblings to care and provide for.
As chairperson of the NYDA, every day for me is Youth Day and so it should be for everyone who needs to rally behind the youth of today.
* Yershen Pillay is chairperson of the NYDA board.