Letlhogonolo Maimane

Director at Kwetso Foundation


It has been 44 years since the 1976 Soweto Uprising. It was in the early hours of a winters day when a group of young revolutionaries stood up and demanded that the atrocious Apartheid government’s education policy of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction be abolished. The benchmark of the education policy of the racist and murderous Apartheid regime was the diabolical Bantu Education Act of which was by design an instrument to entrench oppression of the African people and perpetuate their struggles.

16 June 1976 was a moment of bravery and a moment set to define the future. In his poem titled No Serenity the late Professor Keorapetswe Kgosietsile, inspires us to never erase from our minds the cause of freedom lest it becomes a fading memory. Indeed our memories of struggle have refused to die thus till this day we remember the fallen heroes and heroines that defined our cause for freedom, we remember the brave young revolutionaries who sacrificed their own livelihood for the betterment of the African people and the prosperity of South Africa.

In 1995, the first democratic government of South Africa led by the founding father of our democracy, President Nelson Rolihlanhla Mandela (Oh Dalibungwa), declared the 16th of June as Youth Day, recognising the efforts and sacrifices of young revolutionaries like Emily Sithole, Tsietsi Mashinini, Onkgopotse Tiro and many more young revolutionaries that fought for our freedom. Since the declaration of June 16 as Youth Day, June has by consequence been declared as Youth Month. Every year since 1995, South Africans have celebrated both Youth Day and Youth month in remembrance of the young soldiers that never betrayed the cause of freedom.

In his book titled Wizard of the Crow, African novelist, Ngugi wa Thiongo counsels us on the manner by which we should narrate our history when he says “Stories, like cooked food, lose their flavour if cooked in a hurry”. Historic event like the June 16 Soweto Student uprising need not to be rushed when giving an analysis, rather we should unpack them with the appreciation and admiration of the bravery of the 1976 detachment.

It is however, unfortunate that over the years the celebrations have degenerated into festivals of substance abuse which is the total opposite of what the 1976 generation stood for. A disturbing image that comes to mind is the one of a person wearing a full school uniform whilst holding a glass of beer with their left hand and a cigarette with right hand. How disturbing to note that the right hands does know what the left hand does.

This year 2020, marks the 25th year anniversary of the Youth Day celebrations and for the first time in 25 years there will not be the gross abuse of the day. Perhaps this by consequence of force majeure will ensure that the day is accorded the necessary respect instead of reducing it into a beer garden. Should we thank the novel corona virus for the intervention? I think we should. As society we failed to respect the day and accord it its rightful position in our society. The entrenchment of alcohol in the African communities is one of the strategies that were used by the Apartheid establishment to create a deadbeat African who by consequence will be regarded as violent, disorderly and uncivilized. This amongst other things, are the reasons why the young revolutionaries of 1976 stood up and fought for the cause of freedom thus it is saddening that the celebrations of the 1976 detachment embraces the latter.

Rightfully put, 2020 is the moment of reflection and reconfiguring. Although the year is embedded in catastrophe, it is a necessary reset. The South African youth share a struggle of youth unemployment, lack of economic opportunities to pursue their commercial enterprise and an old guard refusing to let go. Young South Africans thrive on pain disguised as humour and to blame them for this will be disingenuous because their pain is not shared across the board.