Black pupils take to the streets to protest the quality of their education on June 16, 1976. Picture: Independent Media Archives
Black pupils take to the streets to protest the quality of their education on June 16, 1976. Picture: Independent Media Archives

#YouthDay: South Africa has given its youth a bad check

By Chuck Stephens Time of article published Jun 15, 2018

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We are marching to Pretoria!

Last year, when I marched with Save South Africa in Pretoria, I was humming this tune.  But I kept it to myself!

We don’t hear much of this old martial song any more. For it is less than politically correct, with roots in colonialism that were then adapted to a song about the Boer War. Probably either side in that conflict could claim it, as the British won the war… but the Boers won the peace.

Perhaps the most memorable march in Pretoria was in August 1956 – the Women’s March – to protest the pass-laws for black women under Grand Apartheid. The cracks in both racial and gender discrimination were starting to show.

In March 1960 there was an infamous march in Sharpeville. By the time it was over, 500 citizens had perished. It was also about pass-books.

In June 2018, on Youth Day, we remember them marching in Soweto, in 1976. The photojournalist who captured that iconic scene has just been laid to rest. RIP Sam Nzime.

The civil rights movement in the USA was also organizing many famous marches there, at the time. The most memorable was a march on Washington in August 1963.  Here is a paraphrase of a speech made on that day by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. If he was marching in 2018 it would probably be to Pretoria – for the cause of Youth.

We come to our nation's rulers to cash a check.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution, 

they were signing a promissory note to which every South African was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all women and men

Yes, young as well as old

would be guaranteed paying work and sufficiency.

It is obvious today that the nation has defaulted on this promissory note

insofar as so many of her citizens are unemployed.

Instead of honouring this sacred obligation,

South Africa has given its youth a bad check,

a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults

of resources and opportunity in this nation.

And so we've come to cash this check,

a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed indaba to remind South Africa of the fierce urgency

This is no time to engage in the luxury of fat-cat salaries

or to take the tranquilising drug of patronage

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of corruption

to the sunlit path of honesty and transparency

Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of malpractice

to the solid rock of integrity

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

* Stephens heads the UNEMBEZA Desk at the  Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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