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Vice-Chancellor's Youth Day Remarks

Today, 16th June, marks exactly 46 years since students and young people in Soweto rose up against the seemingly unassailable might of the apartheid regime, demanding the abolishment of the inferior Bantu Education as well as Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

At the core of the celebration, or commemoration, of Youth Day – as June 16th has come to be known in democratic SA – was the demand by young people of uninhibited access to quality education in the land of their forebears.

This day, throughout its various spheres of significance, also serves as a reminder that young South Africans – like generations before them - were also at the fore-front of the Struggle for liberation.

Historians and many scholars credit June 16, 1976 as an epoch moment in history that profoundly accelerated the emancipation of Black people from the yoke of decades of subjugation and other forms of dehumanization.

In 1974, the apartheid government legislated Afrikaans as a medium of instruction alongside English in Black schools.
The political consciousness of tens of thousands of students has been raised through the rise of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, which had occupied the vacuum created following the banning of the ANC, PAC and SACP and the imprisonment of leaders to Robben Island and the fleeing to exile of many others.

On this day 46 years ago, between 3000 and 10 000 Soweto students mobilised by the SA Students Movement’s Action Committee – ably supported by Biko’s BCM – marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the abominable declaration of Afrikaans as a compulsory medium of instruction.

The students were famously led by Tsietsi Mashinini, Khotso Seahlolo , Barney Mokgatle and Seth Mazibuko, among others.
The protestors were tragically met by the might of the heavily-armed apartheid police who sprayed them with teargas before firing live ammunition on the otherwise peaceful demonstrating students.

The uprisings that started in Soweto rapidly spread throughout the country like wild fire. Students and young people across the country were supported by the parents in what became a national revolt against the government.
The tragic events of June 16, 1976 also helped to focus the international spotlight on the heinous apartheid system and the plight of the oppressed people in South Africa.

June 16, 1976 was instrumental in the UN’s resolution to declare apartheid a crime against humanity.
The challenges that young people face in today’s post-apartheid SA are starkly different to those of the 76 generation.
Access top to education in particular is regarded as a public good and a core basis of the social justice mandate of our Constitutional democracy.

The quantity and, more importantly, quality of our graduates remain one of the key components of scholarly discourse across higher education fraternity.

We at Unisa, as the largest open distance learning in the entire continent, pride ourselves in our notable efforts to ameliorate that troubles that citizens encounter in accessing higher education.

For the uninitiated, Unisa is the longest standing dedicated distance education university in the whole world. The 350 000 students that we enrol at Unisa account for nearly one-third of the SA students. Our university proudly offers over 500 qualifications, thus spreading its catchment sphere of aspirant students who’d eventually contribute meaningfully to the development of our country and the inter-connected universe.

There are many ways through which we consciously attempt to make good on the education-related dreams of the students and youth of June 1976.

Each year, a whopping 45 000 of our students obtain certificates, diplomas and degrees. No wonder we boast no less than 700 000 Unisa alumni on our reliable database.

As we celebrate Youth Day, we do so acutely aware about the gains made from the past – thanks to the 76 generation – yet remain aware of the enormous challenges that litter the road ahead.

Despite the ubiquitous challenges, we at Unisa remain resolute and determined to play our leading role – as always – in bringing about meaningful change in the lives of our key stakeholders, our students, in spite of what the social scientists refer to as the disordered faults of progress.

It is our fervent wish and collective desire to continue to cultivate generations of enlightened people through our dedicated core of professionals who are committed to Unisa’s academic mission. A happy Youth Day to all – at home and abroad.

Publish date: 2022/06/16