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Remembering and celebrating youth power

Youth Day commemorates the youth uprising of 16 June 1976. In 1975 protests started in black schools after a directive from the then Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools.

The introduction of Afrikaans alongside English as a medium of instruction is considered the immediate cause of the uprising, but literature shows that there are various factors behind the 1976 student unrest. These factors can certainly be traced back to the Bantu Education Act introduced by the Apartheid government in 1953. The Act introduced a new Department of Bantu Education which was integrated into the Department of Native Affairs under Hendrik Verwoerd. The provisions of the Bantu Education Act and some policy statements made by the Bantu Education Department were directly responsible for the uprisings. Verwoerd, who engineered the Bantu Education Act, announced that “Natives (blacks) must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans (whites) is not for them.”

Unisa walks the talk

Youth Day is thus commemorated today in South Africa as a national holiday. The day honours all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid and Bantu Education. In light of the ideals that the youth of 1976 fought for, as the access to education crisis intensifies in South Africa, Unisa has opened its doors to a third of all higher education students in the country as well as students from over 100 African countries. Unisa has had a positive impact on the lives of previously marginalised groups and has contributed to the South African National Development Plan.

From its annual student intake of over 370 000 students, Unisa produces approximately 50% of South African teachers and social workers, while the College of Law accounts for a significant number of the country’s law graduates. Unisa’s end goal has always been to grow quality higher education as a public good.

Youth power

In light of Verwoerd’s announcement that blacks must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans is not for them, the apartheid government was spending far more on white education than on black education: R644 was spent annually for each white student, while only R42 was budgeted for a black school child. While the youth of 1976 paved the way for our generation, until recently access to higher education has and still remains a challenge to many young black people. The legacy of South Africa’s apartheid system is largely to blame as the education system has never fully recovered from the Bantu education act which rendered the black population disenfranchised both from the political system and the economy. South African youth however have proved once again to have the power to fight for the right to access to education in the country. The #FeesMustFall protests which erupted in 2015 argued that education must not be treated as a commodity but as a right that young people, specifically, are entitled to enjoy. The movement must be applauded for raising awareness about the funding crisis in higher education in South Africa. Students in the country have since been able to enjoy many benefits won by the movement.

Lest we forget

While Youth Day is about commemorating the youth of 1976, I find it important for us as young people to remember that we have the power to be the change we want to see in our families, communities and the society at large. The #FeesMustFall movement is a fresh reminder of our determination and a perfect example that we are capable to fight and win struggles we still face because while the class of 1976 and #FeesMustFall have fought a good fight, we can all agree that #ItIsNotYetUhuru.

To commemorate this day, however, may you embrace the struggle and ideals of the youth that fought for the freedom we enjoy today, importantly may you be inspired to behold and seize every opportunity made available to you at Unisa and our country.

Here’s to the youth of 1976, may we remember them, may our resolve match theirs and may we multiply them. Amandla!

*By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/06/15