The Soweto Uprising of 1976 would become one of the major acts of resistance during apartheid and was led by the youth.
June 16 has thus become known as Youth Day in South Africa and in 1991, the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor to the African Union, commemorated today as the Day of the African Child, honouring those who participated in the Soweto Uprising.
On that fateful day, students in Soweto took to the streets, demonstrating against the introduction of Afrikaans alongside English as a medium of instruction.
Aside from that, other factors that spurred the uprising were rooting in the Bantu Education Act of 1953.
Hendrik F Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu Education Act, had said, “There is no place for (the African) in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour.
“It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community.”
It was the youth who realised that this was not to be their fate, that their place in society was greater than the apartheid government had intended and as such they sought to resist. In fact the role of the youth in many liberation movements was a key and critical one.
In South Africa, it was the ANC Youth League formed in 1944 and led by Peter Mda, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Anton Lembede that realised that the passive resistance approach the ANC had taken to the apartheid regime was not going to bear any fruits. They advocated for a more militant approach and were instrumental in the formation of the ANC’s militant wing Umkonto we Sizwe.
Nelson Mandela himself would comment, “Like Lembede, I came to see the antidote as militant African nationalism”.
A similar situation was to be found in Zimbabwe, where a large number of those who went to join zanla and zipra, the two liberation struggle forces, were the youth. The youth of the time realised that they had the power to influence the future they wanted and as such took the relevant steps to bring it about.
The Day of the African Child not only commemorates the youth of the Soweto Uprising, but it also seeks to raise awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.
Education is said to be the greatest equaliser, it is a necessary tool for the development of individuals and communities.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, the number of youth on the African continent is growing rapidly.
“In 2015, 226 million youth aged 15-24 years lived in Africa, accounting for 19 percent of the global youth population. By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42 percent.”
The same department states that the percentage of non-literate youth in Sub-Saharan Africa stands at 29,6 percent. For approximately a third of the continent’s young people to be illiterate should be a major concern for African governments. It is imperative that they equip the African child with access to an affordable and quality education.
The desire for an affordable and quality education is what led South African students to the streets last year, protesting an increment in university fees at various higher learning institutions in the country.
2015 could perhaps be dubbed the Year of the South African Student as students staged multiple protests on various social and economic issues.
From the Rhodes Must Fall movement at UCT, Luister and Open Stellies at Stellenbosch, Black Student Movement at Rhodes University and the Fees Must Fall Movement, which started at the University of Witwatersrand but spread nationwide, South African students were taking charge and actively pursuing the change they wished to see in their country.
African governments need to take seriously the concerns of their children. The systemic inequality and poverty that exists on the continent can be corrected if the collective will of the governments, private sector and civil society work together not only to educate the masses but also uplift the general condition of the poor.
Once again, following in the footsteps of the youth of 1976, and the countless who joined the liberation struggle, young people are seeing the power and influence they wield when they come together behind a cause. Not only are they protesting but they are also presenting solutions to their problems.
In Namibia, a youth lead pressure group, Affirmative Repositioning (AR) was instrumental in petitioning the government for the servicing and provision of land.
They did not just demonstrate but they organised a mass application for land and gave the government an ultimatum as to when their demands should be met. In addition to this, they drafted a housing charter with solutions which they presented to government.
The result, the Namibian government agreed to service 200 000 plots after AR leaders met with President Hage Geingob and other government officials a week before the ultimatum expired.
Today the same young people in Namibia are protesting against the building of a new parliament building, which is set to cost N$2,4 billion. They see this as an unnecessary project, particularly when the country is still facing issues of severe inequality and poverty.
In Zimbabwe, the youth have also taken various steps to let their voice be heard. At the recent Million Man March in Zimbabwe organised by the zanu-pf Youth League, Deputy Youth Secretary Kudzai Chipanga used the platform to raise the concerns of young people to the party and national leadership.
He spoke about the misplaced priorities Government officials have, constantly changing vehicles.
He also noted that the Government misappropriates resources that should go towards importing food or supporting local farmers and resuscitating irrigation schemes.
The Day of the African Child should be a reminder to African leaders to provide platforms for the youth to develop and to take an active part in social, economic and political life of their nations.
With close to 70 percent of the continent’s population under the age of 30, the focus of African leaders should be on creating a sustainable environment that caters for the needs of the African child.