Today, we mark forty four years since the SOWETO uprising, which saw many young black learners, brutally and viciously gunned down in cold blood at the hands of an unapologetically racist and savage regime that found its pleasure in the suffering of the black child.

Equally, today we mark a day where young brave learners left their parents at home, left their political leaders underground and took matters into their own hands.

We mark a day, where young people decided that change was not going to come to them on a silver platter, but they had to demand it, they had to fight for it and if need be they had to take it by force, even if it meant death. That’s who we are talking about when we mention the youth of 1976.

Sometimes one wonders if we still have in us, the attitude the bravery of young leaders like, Tsietsi Mashinini, Hastings Ndlovu or even Hector Pieterson. It would be a great tragedy to believe that the conditions that were present in the Apartheid education system which forced Tsietsi Mashinini and hundreds of black learners to take to the streets don’t exist today. In order for us to truly evaluate the youth of today and its
involvement, or lack thereof, in the political process, we first need to understand why the youth of 76’ sacrificed and risked their lives.

Today the Soweto uprising has been reduced to “No Afrikaans”, when in actual fact, the fight of that youth was far greater, and far deeper than a mere language of instruction imposed on them. It was fight against unbearable learning conditions for them. They had very limited, and in some cases, no study materials or resources to ensure the best possible learning outcomes.

The youth of 76 grew frustrated at the conditions of their learning environments. No doors in classrooms, leaving them heavily exposed, sometimes broken or no windows at all, while having to deal with their socioeconomic plight outside the classroom.

History has no blank pages, it cannot be altered nor reconfigured, because its history. Now the question before us, given the historical context is, are those conditions present today or have they disappeared with apartheid government?

Many public schools today, just like in ’76, have limited and sometimes no basic resources at all. Something as basic as a textbook, or even a toilet is a distant thought in the mind of a learner from these schools. How many times in this democratic dispensation have we heard of leaners falling to their death in pit toilets? How many times have we seen schools with no physical walls, where learners are subjected to
learning under a tree? The truth is some of the unbearable conditions the youth of 76’ faces are present 44 years later and 26 years into democracy.

However, it is not only the unbearable conditions in both basic education and higher education that beg the involvement of young people in the political process. It is also in the economy, particularly the micro economy.

Young people today in this country face an unprecedented socioeconomic plight and it is up to them to bring about change. Today when one looks at the micro economy, we see a very important sector, one that could bring about that change in the socioeconomic conditions of millions of young people.

The unfortunate reality is, this economy does not reflect South Africa and South Africans. Our micro economy is dominated by foreign nationals and assists them in alleviating their struggles at the expense of our youth. This is why we have called for the ring-fencing of the micro economy, to allow the South African youth the opportunity to participate in their economy and not be victims of their economy.

We have presented this to parliament and to the general public, and I submit it here again today. Other countries have ensured that their economy prioritizes its young people, but in South Africa, South Africans come second.

We unfortunately have an even greater issue and an even greater problem in the macro economy. It too does not reflect South Africans, in fact if you were not told, you wouldn’t know it was South African. Take the mineral resources as an immediate example, who owns our mines, who owns our mineral Former African Union Ambassador to the United States Dr Arikana once told a short story of how when she visited the Northern cape here in South Africa, she thought it was a busy international airport nearby because of the number of planes in the sky and she was told “No those are the mineral resources leaving the country” which again as I mentioned earlier, all of this begs for the participation of young people into the political process.

It was young people who started agitating the white minority government and fought for liberation in Zimbabwe and in Ghana, and Malcolm X was a young man when he fought not for his seat on the table but a table for his people.

We need an economy that will work for South Africans first before it works for somebody else, we need an education and healthcare system, and even a political system that will work and serve us as South Africans first.

It is not xenophobic to demand the economy to serve you. It is not xenophobic to point out that the economy is not serving South Africans, and that the political process is not benefiting South Africans, let alone that it is not conducive for young people to participate.

This is patriotic and we need a patriotic and rejuvenated youth to come in the political process and be the change.

I leave you with the words of our brother, the first black President of the United States, when he said “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

Issued by the African Transformation Movement.

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