THE events of the 1976 Soweto uprising that saw scores of schoolchildren, including 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being killed, was one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the apartheid regime.
On that morning, more than 10000 students marched from their schools across Soweto to a rally at Orlando Stadium in protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction for all subjects in black schools.
Before they reached the stadium, police firing live ammunition attacked them and about 176 perished with many more injured. Students fought back with rocks and sticks as the uprising spread across Soweto.
The uprising spread to other centres in the following months and changed the face of South Africa forever.
Today their legacy lives on and it is from the ashes of that generation that a new South African youth have taken the baton and continued their own quest for excellence.
Some young South African trailblazers have described the struggle of the class of 1976 as the foundation for their success, despite the founding member of the June 16 Youth Development Foundation, Seth Mazibuko, saying there was a disconnect between the ’76 generation and the youth of today.
Reigning Miss SA Tamaryn Green, comedian Mpho Popps, musician Nkulee Dube, TV personalities Thando Thabethe and Denise Zimba, as well as poet and activist Ntsiki Mazwai, have all said that their star power emerged from those who came before them.
They believe the fact that rugby star Siya Kolisi has been selected as the first black Springbok test captain after 142 years of rugby in this country and that 14 young South Africans including actress Thuso Mbedu, musicians Cassper Nyovest and rapper Kwesta have been included in Forbes 30 under 30 leading youth, is a sign of excellence.
Green, who is part of a platform that celebrates and empowers women, said the 1976 uprising was a pivotal part of history contributing to attaining freedom and equality for the youth.
“Today I have opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible if not for that day. I have freedom of speech and freedom to pursue any career I want.
“June 16 is a day that reminds us we have a voice and influence.”
Media personality and entrepreneur Thando Thabethe said the youth’s struggle
had made it possible for them today to celebrate the power of the youth.
“I don’t think the youth of today have forgotten the struggle but I do think that young people are making great strides and there are a lot of young people doing amazing things,” Thabethe said.
But slain reggae musician Lucky Dube’s daughter, Nkulee Dube, a musician in her own right, feels differently.
She said people today had plenty to learn because they seemed a bit lost.
Dube was recently honoured by the mayor of Buffalo in New York state,
Byron Brown, with the keys to the city.
“They (young people) are finding ‘shiny things’ more attractive than working hard for all life has to bring.
“I think the youth nowadays need to revisit the trials and tribulations the youth in 1976 had to go through which allows them to have the life we lead today,” she said.
Poet and activist Ntsiki Mazwai said apart from the commemoration of Youth Day, she believes today’s youth are neglected and abused.
“The youth of ’76 were fighting for politically conscious issues that affected their livelihood and our youth today are dead, with consumerism, laziness and lack of vision and it’s all our fault.”
She said the youth looked at the elders but no one was guiding them.
“They are quite enslaved to debt, enslaved in having to become an identity that they aren’t, what the youth are learning is to become accustomed to western culture so that they are more likely to be employed,” she said.
“The youth of today have to be responsible for their own education.
They should learn to choose conscious role models.
Comedian Mpho Popps says he thinks society has lost sight of what is actually being celebrated.
“We don’t do anything to honour their memory in my opinion, we just party.” TV personality Denise Zimba said the contribution made by young people of June 16 was incredible and she was living proof of the hard work and sacrifice that had been made.
“We have an abundance of gratitude for what they have done,” she said
-KEITUMETSI MOTLHALE AND HLONI MASHIGO