It has been 36 years since about 20 000 students took part in the historic protests on the streets of Soweto, in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools.
And this year the township’s youths are taking the meaning of Youth Day to a different level.
June 16 is known for the 1976 student uprising but the youths have coined their own phrase, ArtRising, to celebrate this year’s public holiday. The event, at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers in Orlando West today, includes visual art exhibitions and songs by performing artists.
“The intention of this day is to use art as a means of returning to and remembering the core issues the youth of 1976 grappled with. It is to bear in mind how they fought and what they battled for and how we can follow suit in alleviating the challenges we face as the youth of 2012,” said organiser Taryn Mackay.
She said South Africans had moved towards a new phenomenon she described as collective amnesia. She said people had forgotten to reminisce about the events of the past and which led to change.
“A lot of students think June 16 is about apartheid and Hector Pieterson. The event has been reduced to one individual. But it isn’t so. The day is about so much more. It is how young people took risks and changed the status quo. They resisted the substandard education they were forced to have. The youth of 1976 didn’t blame, but acted.”
Mackay lamented the country’s education system, saying it was unbearable that 18 years on, school children were still forced to study under trees and had no resources to work with.
“South Africa is ranked 133 out of 142 countries for its education. It’s unacceptable. This is one of the adversities we should be tackling,” she said.
Instead of demanding change, today’s youth had got lost in aspirations of BMW cars and a desperate need to own Blackberry cellphones, wear designer clothes and drink expensive alcohol.
With this event, she said, the youth of the township would be showing that freedom is joy.
“This art event is not a meeting. It is about dancing in front of an MC that is speaking life to your soul,” said Mackay.
The line-up for the day will include a jam session, an indigo market, a Medu Art Ensemble silkscreen tribute and a memory circle in which stories will be told by elders.
Visual Artist Mfundo Mkhize said that for him the event was about showcasing critical and indigenous art.
“Our art is from the streets. It is about reminding youngsters what it felt like before art pieces were commercialised.”
Speaking about the silk-screen Medu tribute, Mkhize said the art by Thami Mnyele and other SA cultural workers who went into exile in Botswana in 1977 was about conveying a message to one another. He said workshops would teach the youth how to use silkscreens.
He said 16 political posters would be created “to place emphasis on the number 16”.
Mackay said the theme of the day is: “We Remember.”
She said the youth event was organised under the auspices of Kgantsa Ho Ganye (a Sotho term that implies “give light and let it shine”) and the Good Feel Music Group.
Katlego “Desh” Mohlabane of the music group said the compositions that would be sung were relevant to the current generation.
The events start at 10am.