Youth Militancy of 16 June 1976 Drawing Lessons for the South African Youth of 2015

The challenges faced by the youth of 16 June 1976, in South Africa, is no different than that of 2015, if one considers the fact that in 1976 the youth fought for a just and equal society as the one of 2015 that is fighting for continuous and equitable share in the current job market. Getting into jobs and seeking sustainable opportunities in improving living standards amongst the youth continuous to be a challenge. Youth unemployment in current day South Africa is a phenomenon faced by the youth in other parts of the globe. The uninspiring youth unemployment statistics in South Africa, and the world in general, tells us that more needs to be done to bring the youth into the mainstream of equitable and decent living.

The vulnerability of youth in the labour market poses a major challenge for policymakers across the globe. “As observed around the world, youth unemployment and underemployment is prevalent not only because of demand side deficiencies (inadequate job opportunities), but also because they lack skills, work experience, job search abilities and financial resources to find employment” (ILO, 2006).

The youth of 16 June 1976 were not fighting against education, instead they were fighting the injustice of accessing education in a language and social setting that will continue to afford them the opportunity to improve their skills and be part of an educated society that allows one to live in dignity. The fight, then, was for education, but fair education in a just society! This struggle continues, and this struggle is now with the youth of 2015! It does so not only within a society that is democratic but also under conditions that are now strongly influenced by global trends and impacts, and under the conditions of a legacy that continues to persist within a democratic dispensation. Fortunately, the South African youth now have the opportunity to spread their wings and join the global village in accessing the best education in different parts of the world (as witnessed since the dawn of democracy in South Africa).

However, these opportunities come with challenges associated with ‘competition’, and need we say that this competition should be viewed as ‘healthy’ as it sets the standard at a level that requires the youth to work even harder, not only with dignity but with pride too. The benchmark for the youth of 2015 is that set by the youth of 1976, and this is characterised by the spirit of enduring perseverance of not giving up in ones dreams and goals. Whilst the South African youth of 1976 were willing to sacrifice their lives (and so they did), they were also focused on achieving education and skills that will afford them a chance in life.

Donor support opportunities have grown, South African state support is now in place and private sector support has been broadened in the country and is more prevalent than it was for the youth of 1976, however, most of the South African youth see these opportunities as a pipedream and inaccessible. These challenges should not be viewed as ignorance on the side of today’s youth, instead they should be seen practical and real and should be made visible and reachable to every youth in township schools as much as we see them in the so called ‘model C’ or private schools.

The practical implications that are hampering the previously disadvantaged communities from accessing quality education (as witnessed by the youth of 1976), persist due to practical applications of policies meant to address the legacy of Apartheid. And these are not excuses! These are practical experiences faced by different societies that have endured some form of segregation. On the other hand the South African youth of 2015, and beyond, should be instilled with the attitude of striving (even under the prevailing circumstances) to rise above the existing state of order and reach higher than their existing communities ever did. The action taken by the youth of 1976 will serve as guidance to the youth of 2015, but taking the initiative will be the lasting legacy that will give the youth of 2015 the impetus to achieve higher goals and serve as benchmark for future generations to come.

Nhlanhla Sibisi, 16th June 2015