BY LESEDI MNISI
Dedicated to Nondumiso Lehutso
Watching young people unite and fight against any and all injustices, is comparable to observing a fire burn through a veld. It is an exciting, exhilarating and oftentimes terrifying feeling which holds the promise of a new – perhaps uncertain – future.
Young people have always been trailblazers for the fight against injustice; it is why we are able to celebrate Youth Day as a country, every single year. It is almost as if the clouds of politics, class, fear of death, and the need for economic stability are yet to rain on their parades. They unite and fight with valour, each time they need to.
In 1976 over 20 000 young students took to the streets to protest against the apartheid regime’s Bantu Education system. The Bantu Education Act introduced a racist schooling system based on the separation of schools and universities for black and white students (the term black is used as an umbrella term for all people of colour who were affected by this act throughout the article). Black students were forced to attend schools that had poor facilities, inadequately trained educators and classrooms that were overcrowded.
The then Minister of Native Affairs, Dr Hendrik F. Verwoed, explained the necessity of this act to the South African Parliament by saying “… it is of no avail for him [black students] to receive training which has its aim in the absorption of the European Community, where he cannot be absorbed”. In summary, the apartheid government decided that black students deserved education which would merely prepare them for the menial jobs they would do for white people.
The weeks that followed the protest against the Bantu Education Act saw the deaths of nearly (perhaps more than) 700 people. Many of those who died were young people.
It is important for young people to fight for the future they want to live in. Truth is, the future belongs to the young and it often seems to be quite clear that they cannot leave it in the hands of those who came before them.
Some of those who came before the youth (usually those who were in positions of power) were segregators, classists, racists, sexists and many if not all of them were corrupt. It seems that a large deal of responsibility lies on the shoulders of young people. They must fight for a future in which all people are safe and accepted and they must prepare to live in such a future.
However, many young people have grabbed this load of responsibility and are running with it towards utopia. Who are these young people who are so unafraid of conflict and controversy?
These are the young people seen in the streets protesting for free tertiary education for all – because they, like the 20 000 previously discussed – believe that all South Africans deserve fair and equal education. These are the young people who united against gender-based violence in 2019 after the brutal for murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana.
These are the young people who hold and lead sanitary drives to collect pads and tampons so that the young people who cannot afford them, do not have to miss days of school each month. These are the young people who hold and lead critical engagement sessions within their communities and within other communities to educate themselves and others about world-wide social issues. These are the young people who utilise their social media accounts as places where people can remain informed on social injustices.
These are the young people who vote.
These are the young people who stand with Palestine.
Happy Youth Day to those young people. The ones who fight because they refuse to forget. The ones whose souls burn for freedom and justice. The ones whose deaths spark outrage and a will to fight. The ones who never made it off the battlefield.
Happy Youth Day to you.