The month of June since 1976 has been a historic month for young people living in South Africa. On the 16th of June 1976, young students from various schools in Soweto set out a march through the sprawling Black township outside the city of Johannesburg. The purpose of the march was to amplify their opposition to the apartheid regime’s new school language policy that would see Afrikaans replace English as their main medium of instruction in various key subjects. Despite the violent suppression of the march by the apartheid government, the protests reignited the public flame of resistance and helped many to continue to advocate for their freedom. At the same time, this provided a model for young people to continue to follow in challenging the injustices.
46 years later, South Africa continues to commemorate June 16th as National Youth Day and as Africa Unite we joined many young people in remembering the sacrifices and struggles of the past. In the Western Cape, Lyle Breda spoke at a Youth Day activation for the International Peace Youth Group (IPYG) on behalf of Africa Unite on “Youth Human Rights and the sacrifice we make” at the Albert Luthuli Square in the Cape Town Foreshore. The session was attended by over 1600 participants from various organizations, schools, and religious institutions, Africa Unite Peer Educators as well as citizens in their private capacity. While in KwaZulu Natal, Blessing Nyuswa organized an event in Bhambayi informal settlement at Bhambayi Development Center following the realization of the erosion of the spirit of Ubuntu and loss of hope amongst young people following the April floods that affected the province.
The conversations centered around what Youth Day meant, why the youth of 1976 laid down their lives for our freedom, and the basic tenets of respect and dignity. One of the key takeaways from the Youth Day 2022 commemorations raised by speakers from our stakeholders was that as young people we cannot allow the injustices we see before us such as xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and gangsterism control our society. In addition, it was emphasized that the young people of 2022 have a duty to be at the forefront of transformation, and lead the charge as the young people of 1976 had. The events also reignited hope despite the social injustices that young people face and the need to continue to be proactive.
There was an inspiring story, from a young woman, Kgomotso Buthelezi who shared how she fought to get her life back after being shot eight times in a car highjacking and left for dead. In her story, she inspired young people with the capabilities that they have in bringing about social change. Young people from the LGBTQIA+ community also joined the event and issues on gender imbalances and homophobia were raised as some shared some of the struggles they encounter. In conclusion, the commemorations did not only cover the issues affecting young people but were followed by artistic performances from talented young people and a peace march around Cape Town Foreshore. The participants expressed a sense of optimism about our duty to our society as young people. The true test will be if this optimism will hold once the euphoria of the event dies down.
• A recommendation from the IPYG team was to continue partnering with Africa Unite on various celebrations and skills platforms.
• The founder of Girls leading Change, a relatively new and small organization based in Kraaifontein expressed the effects of our dish soap-making campaign in 2020 and would like to partner for more soon.
• A need to take the information shared by the presenters into follow-up workshops where young people will have more time to share their experiences and how they can continue to drive change in their communities.