Jambo Africa Online’s Associate Editor, OFENTSE NTHITE, calls on the youth not to betray the sacrifices made by the 1976 cohort. 

We are still within the month of June, which is celebrated as the “Youth Month” in South Africa. A month that guides all spectacles on the opportunities and challenges the youth are facing and what could be done to help the youth to maximize its potential by flourishing beyond measure. This year’s June 16 marked the 45thcelebration that pays homage to the class of 1976.  A generation of youth that possessed an insatiable amount of courage, strength, chutzpah and resilience in the midst of apartheid heat injected by its unjust laws. Now, post 27 years of democracy in our country, the youth of today are still face challenges in the forms of unemployment, poverty and inequality. 

It all began, or rather significantly influenced by the 1953 establishment of a new Department of Native Affairs under Dr Hendrick F. Verwoerd. Followed by the introduction of the Bantu Education Act whose outcome was to teach black people to become obedient “hewers of wood and fetchers of water”. The former and the latter laid a foundation to what students would later revolt against: Afrikaans being made compulsory as a medium of instruction. 

The apartheid architects hoped to impose segregated education between the white minority and the black majority students. This came at a time whereby more and more black students were starting to warm up to the Black Consciousness philosophy as led by the late Steve Biko. The students organized themselves into the South African Student Organization (SASO). 

The youth of 1976 fueled by resentment towards the apartheid government attempted imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, armed with a longing for freedom and neglecting feelings of despair, embarked on uprisings against the system. Starting in Soweto on June 16, the uprisings spread like wildfire and engulfed the entire country. The country was boiling. 

Their efforts, however, did not go in vain and the youth of today can attest to that. The youth of today are dedicating their time and energy to fight the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the country. Well, enjoying the right to embark on protests against our government right now is not something that is automatic and given, it took the blood and sweat of the youth of 1976 for us to enjoy the freedom we have today, of being able to not just chant slogans but also to put our innovative and entrepreneurial skills into implementation to impact our lives positively. Not forgetting the being able to occupy and contribute to academia through research that gathers solutions to problems facing the youth and using education as a tool to alleviate poverty.

Today, there are organisations such as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) which assists youth entrepreneurs with capital funding for them to pursue their dreams of not only creating opportunities for themselves but also creating jobs for others. 

Today we’re privileged to have a type of government that does not discriminate nor mete injustice to its youth. Since its establishment by an act of parliament, the NYDA has been playing a pivotal role by ensuring that all major stakeholders, including the government, rally under the banner of youth development. To also ensure ever lasting solutions for the youth of South Africa in all its programmes aimed at individual (Micro), Community (Meso) and Provincial and National (Macro) level. 

On a more personal note, I hold a degree in Political Science and International Relations. Worked in South Korea between 2018-2019 and have tapped into entrepreneurship producing accessories hand-made with African-Print material imported from Mozambique. All this owing to the bravery of those who challenged the system before me. Thus, it is safe to say that the youth of 1976 fought against the socio-political and economic injustices for a country that avails all these support mechanisms to us as today’s youth.

Post-1994 democratic era, the class of 2021 are mostly dedicating their time to redressing the socio-economic constraints that ripple into unemployment that forces some into crime. This was eloquently captured by Kate Philips, an economist attached to the Project Management Office in the Presidency, when she said: “Participation in work at decent standards – including in self-employment – builds important attributes and capabilities. These include increased access to networks, to life-skills, teamwork, management skills, access to information, a greater sense of agency, and community respect and recognition. It is also often in the workplace – or the marketplace – that people learn organising skills, which build leadership. Work experience also enhances the success rate of later enterprise activity…” 

The challenges we’re facing as the youth are mammoth. In their review of “the economic progress towards the National Development Plan’s Vision 2030” in December 2020, the National Planning Commission (NPC) indicated out of the group that entered Grade 1 in 1997, only 60% of them wrote the matric exam – and only 37% of that original group passed. 

Furthermore, although approximately a quarter of the original group achieved a pass that qualified them for university entrance, only 12% entered university. Sadly, only half of the 12% that entered university managed to complete an undergraduate degree within six years after matric.

The most worrying statistic given is that almost 40% of learners drop out between Grade 10 and Grade 12 without obtaining any qualification. This means these youths do not obtain the necessary skills to equip them for the working world. The NPC noted out of the 9.3 million unemployed people in South Africa, 6 million are under the age of 35 and young people show far higher rates of unemployment than older people. 

These scary statistics challenge us as the youth to fold our sleeves and develop ways and means of empowering our fellow brothers and sisters. The triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality affect all of us. Let’s be inspired by the selflessness of the gallant heroes and sheroes of 1976 who sacrificed their lives for us to be where we are today. Eshubile!  


Ofentse Nthite is reachable on ofentse.nthite@brandhillafrica.com