Today marks 41 years since that fateful day in 1976 when students and pupils in Soweto marched against Bantu Education and were met by brute force and live ammunition from apartheid security forces
By the end of the day, official police reports had 23 people being shot and killed in Soweto – but unofficial reports put the number much higher at more than 200. Hundreds more were injured.
But instead of quelling the protest, the iron fist had the opposite effect and the uprising spread rapidly across South Africa.
By the end of the year, about 575 people had died across the country, 451 at the hands of police. A further 3907 were injured and about 5980 people were arrested in the townships during 1976.
And still the protest grew.
That winter of discontent was a seminal moment in the history of our Struggle for freedom and equality. Like the march of women to the Union Buildings 20 years earlier, this was the moment when young black South Africans rose up en masse against the apartheid regime.
One of the first actions of the democratic government in 1994 was to declare new national public holidays.
June 16 was an obvious and unanimous choice to pay homage to the youth of the country and the critical part they played in securing the freedom we enjoy today.
Now, 22 years later, we must continue to keep alive their memories and to acknowledge the debt we owe to that brave generation.
The youth of today must find their own mission.
Frantz Fannon suggests that mission is the redistribution of wealth: “What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”
It is a view shared by Mo Ibrahim, who warned in a recent article in the Financial Times that Africa is at a tipping point and whether it rises or falls “depends above all else on whether the continent creates the conditions in which its greatest resource – its young people – can shine”.
Quoting statistics that predict that Africa’s youth population will double from 230-million to 452-million by 2050, Ibrahim says Africa’s youth are more adventurous, more entrepreneurial and better educated that any previous generation. But they are also more likely to be unemployed.
The legacy to us from the 1976 youth was the gift of freedom, of human rights enshrined in a constitution based on equality, democracy and social justice.
Part of this inheritance is constitutional institutions, including the Electoral Commission, to safeguard this endowment for this and future generations.
Today’s youth have avenues to express themselves and to participate in democratic processes never available and not imaginable to the youth of 1976.
We must never forget.