It is often said that change is not an event, but a process.
However, the youth of 1976 proved that one event can change the course of history.
The young people who stood up to the full might of the apartheid government on that fateful day, had no idea that their actions would change our history.
This uprising was led by young people such as Tsietsi Mashinini and was against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
These learners understood that they had to lead the fight against imposed inferior education. They also knew that their actions would come at a terrible price. But they proceeded nonetheless and stood firm against the apartheid government.
They demanded equal access to education and opportunities and were even prepared to face the regime with their bare hands.
For them decent education meant many things; it meant emancipation, an escape from poverty and from the worst-paying jobs. It was also about the restoration of dignity and identity as they would be able to read about their history and take pride of who they are as a people.
This year, South Africa marks the 40th anniversary of the June 16, 1976, Soweto uprising. The commemoration provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made in realising the aspirations of the class of 1976.
We have achieved a lot since 1994. We have succeeded in breaking down barriers to education and ensured that education is open for all South Africans, irrespective of race.
Today the provision of education to all is a human right.
We have increased the number of schools, universities and colleges over the past 22 years to meet the expectations of our people. We prioritised improving the quality of teaching and learning outcomes, especially in basic education. For instance, we have introduced Early Child Development (ECD) to promote the development of young children from beginning/childhood to the foundation phase of schooling. We have focused on the content knowledge and competencies of teachers, and have also invested heavily in infrastructure and learning resources.
In addition, we have ensured that no child studies on an empty stomach through the introduction of the school feeding scheme.
This is in line with the National Development Plan, which states that “by 2030, feeding schemes in schools should cover all children in need and provide food that is high in nutritional content and rich in vitamins”.
The scheme provides much- needed nutrition to pupils who are in need, and this helps them concentrate on studying in class.
While there are still many challenges, and more needs to be done particularly to improve the quality of education, we are pleased to note an increase in the matric pass rate since 1994.
The national matric pass rate in 1995 was 53.4% and 20 years later (2015) it is 70.7%.
We have also made huge advances in making higher education available and accessible, especially to previously disadvantaged individuals.
This is largely due to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme that has been extended to include students at Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges.
More students are expected to benefit as the government increases the number of these colleges and expands enrolments from the current 500 000 to 2.5 million in 2030.
These advances have not happened in a vacuum and can be traced back to the actions of young people who were the driving force behind our fight for freedom.
It is through their action and those of many others that this year we celebrate 22 years of democracy. They have ensured that everyone has access to both basic and higher education irrespective of race and financial background.
It is therefore disheartening to see that some in our communities have in the recent past burnt schools, libraries and university buildings, thereby jeopardising the future of this generation of children. As President Jacob Zuma pointed out, no grievance “can justify the destruction of property, especially schools, which are meant to help the next generation” to defeat poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Instead it is our responsibility to build on the gains the older generation has made, and ensure that the next generation can inherit an even better country. It is imperative that the youth of today acquire the knowledge and technical skills the market demands, and harness their entrepreneurial spirit to lead a new economic charge in the country.
Our youth should become the inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, open their own small businesses, create jobs and ultimately contribute to a prosperous South Africa.
Ultimately, our budding captains of industry will compete with the major conglomerates of this world and move our country forward.
l Radebe is Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation