Young people’s struggles continue 45 years on

By Roland Mpofu Time of article published Jun 15, 2021

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The 45th anniversary of the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprisings has cast the spotlight on the challenges faced by young people in South Africa.

Forty five years ago the youth faced an unjust system with Afrikaans forced down their throats as a medium of instruction. When they took on the Apartheid police on that fateful day, more than 200 children were shot in cold bold.

Today the challenges are different. Youth unemployment is at a record high and the battle for free quality higher education continues.

Wendy Nkosi, the secretary general of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) students representative council (SRC) says there are many challenges that the youth face which were inherited from their forefathers' struggle, which was oppression.

“This is relevant today because now young people are oppressed mentally that we are not angry enough or better not holding the government accountable for the mess they have created to the point that we fight the state and government for the high unemployment rate, fees that are increasing yearly, and basic education needs not provided for learners.

“If we were not oppressed, we would have taken a stand of ensuring that the government knows our frustrations and does something practical about it,” said Nkosi.

She added that as young people it was difficult to overcome these challenges because when they protest they are arrested or “killed fighting the government”.

“I think at this point there is nothing practical that we can do because we are either threatened, arrested or killed fighting the government.

“So better yet, I think conscientising young people of their reality and how this is going to be a problem forever if we do not do anything about it now. If we make people aware of history and the real truth (decolonised history) we might be able to find amicable solutions in order for the next generation not to inherit our struggles like we did.” said Nkosi, sounding defeated.

“If the government was doing something to empower young people, we would not be having a NSFAS administration problem, Fees Must Fall, protests every year, high unemployment rate and many other challenges that young people are facing today.

“The government is indeed failing young people and that creates a vacuum for young leadership to take over to lead this country further,” she said.

Nkosi said they will not be commemorating this Youth Day because they were currently in the middle of exams.

Meanwhile, Cebolenkosi Khumalo, a member of the SA Students Congress (Sasco) at Wits University, said unemployment was one of the challenges they were facing, especially graduates.

“One of the burning issues is youth unemployment, which is currently at 72%. Another burning issue is the systematic organised crime corruption that is happening currently in our country.

"Many people won’t see it because it is well organised from the courts and all the way to the government. There seems to be a marriage of convenience between white monopoly capital and the ANC government. This has been demonstrated by the looting of state-owned enterprises.”

Asked what the government was doing to empower young people, Khumalo said: “The issues we are facing today cannot be solved by the government alone. The private sector must be forced to come on board. It is true that there is a lack of willingness from the country's government to resolve the unemployment crisis in our country.”

Siyabonga Mthethwa, the chairperson of the Commerce, Law and Management (CLM) students organisation at Wits said the main challenge was access to free decolonised higher education.

“I will be a bit biased, mostly because I will be speaking from a higher education perspective, which is what I relate mostly to, than basic education. However, we have looked at how we are going to fund free education - tax revenue being one of the measures that are sustainable."

Congress of SA Students (Cosas) spokesperson, Masithembe Maqwara said they plan to commemorate this day by visiting graves of former leaders who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of freedom, democracy and social justice especially the likes of Ephraim Mogale, Siphiwo Mthimkhulu and Solomon Mahlangu

Maqwara also lamented that the most pressing issue facing young people across the country was youth unemployment.

“The youth of 1976 faced the apartheid government’s brutality and injustices while today's youth face unemployment.

“We can overcome these challenges by encouraging youth activism and instilling a sense of patriotism among the youth,” he said.

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