Maverick Citizen


Young people must lead in boldly imagining and actively creating a future that is prosperous for us all

Young people must lead in boldly imagining and actively creating a future that is prosperous for us all
Young people participate in a march to commemorate Youth Day in Soweto Township on June 16, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Youth Day commemorates the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976, when students gathered on the streets of Soweto to protest against Afrikaans being the language of instruction used in schools. The protest turned violent, resulting in the deaths of students and hundreds others in the riots that followed across South Africa. (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

We never fail to remind young people that their time to lead is tomorrow. Never today. Never now. Just endless tomorrows, because all of us have youth on our side in perpetuity. I dare not imagine what the youth of 1976 would think had they been told it was not their time to do anything about the injustice they had lived through and experienced, and that they should know their place. 

We are tired. We are broken. We are angry, but we still have ourselves to turn to if we are to create a future worth living in and one that every single one of us deserves. 

Last year the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Youth Activism Programme with our many civil society partners hosted a press conference preceding the Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change at the Hector Pieterson Memorial. 

Antoinette Sithole, a veteran activist who engaged and participated in the 1976 Soweto Uprising reminded us that their generation took to the streets to fight for education and human rights. A struggle they waged without the permission of their parents. She reminded us of the need for young people to collectively take action in changing our lives, in changing our conditions and to continue fighting for what we believe is right, without having to seek permission. 

Hector Pieterson Memorial, Youth Day

Local youth visit Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West in commemoration of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings on June 16, 2020 in Soweto, South Africa. Youth Day is a day in which South Africans honour the youth that was ambushed by the apartheid regime police in Soweto on 16 June 1976. (Photo: Gallo Images/Laird Forbes)

Read more in Daily Maverick: From 1976 to 2022: How mobilisation happens has changed, but many systemic issues remain the same

Her input referenced a generational fight. An extremely weighted fight. A struggle that is often carried forward from one generation to the next, as a sober reminder of the deep responsibility we all carry with us and that is attached to our roots and memory — to continue building a unified, prosperous and equal South Africa. 

She encouraged us to come up with better solutions, and that the blood that was shed, like that of her brother Hector Pieterson, was for the generations that have since followed. 

Of all the inputs she made that day, one truly stood out. “You should take a stand; we will follow at the back”. 

That was her parting message to the many youth activists gathered at the memorial site. It was that message that resonated strongly with me. 

It was a message that signified a shift in attitude of a society that for a long while spoke in circles about the role of youth in creating change, while concurrently occupying all the space, gatekeeping resources and talking down to us. This model is a common feature across many panel discussions, boardroom tables and often in the design of some well-marketed intergenerational dialogues, which often isn’t a place to engage as equals — to listen, learn, share and work together, but rather for those with power to be seen as inclusive of the largest population group in the country without actually doing so. 

This shift of attitude caught me by surprise. Partly because we never fail to remind young people that their time to lead is tomorrow. Never today. Never now. Just endless tomorrows, because all of us have youth on our side in perpetuity. A strongly held belief that most Ministers, Members of Parliament and dare I say many influential people across business, media, civil society and politics. 

Youth protest, Youth Day

Sefako Makgatho Medical Students march to the Department of Health Offices on 1 July, 2022 in Pretoria, South Africa. The group marched over the lack of job opportunities as dozen of graduates remain at home without work . (Photo by Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu)

I dare not imagine what the youth of 1976 would think had they been told it’s not their time to do anything about the injustice they had lived through and experienced, and that they should know their place.  

Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong advocate for intergenerational engagement. None of us know it all … But it’s extremely difficult not to feel disrespected when demands for greater and more meaningful youth participation are met with silence, appointments of even older members of cabinet, and a complete lack of distrust in giving us the space to lead and to showcase what is possible…

Mam Sithole’s inputs heartened my soul and fuelled a new fire. It joined the many growing voices of youth who are rising up and meeting the challenges of our time head-on. Her confirmation that she would be willing to follow from the back, was a significant and symbolic indication that things must change, and that young people should stop waiting for permission to take charge, nor to appease everyone in pursuing our struggle for a more just and equitable society. 

In the last few months, I’ve been in numerous engagements with young people on the question of reform vs revolution

What is certain for us as young people is that a major change must occur in order to remove the systemic barriers that continue to deepen inequality and exclude us from developing ourselves and the communities we come from. This debate gives fair recognition to the great possibility of carrying out a revolutionary and transformative programme through reforms, however, there are those who believe in the latter.

Consensus is clear. Courage must emerge through greater consciousness building and civic education work, coupled with greater care and compassion for each other and for the communities whom we serve. 

Better organisation and coordination must be developed on the principle of solidarity, and to ensure we form our own credible voice for the youth, by the youth and with the youth. The best way to carry forward this new struggle, in this new time, with this new generation, is to do so daringly — boldly imagining and actively creating a prosperous future for us all and not for the few who continue to profit from our suffering and misery. 

Young people have nothing to celebrate about Youth Day

Youth Day, Soweto Uprising

Students protesting during the June 1976 uprising in South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport archives)

Read more in Daily Maverick: National Youth Coalition hopes to encourage young people to participate in democratic processes

For the entirety of the Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change on the 46th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, we were extremely clear as a collective. Youth Day is a commemoration of the past, and the best way we can honour the many martyrs and sacrifices made is to rise to the moment and actively carry forward the struggle for ourselves, our families and for our shared future. Actively working with each other in problem-solving, co-creating, and dialoguing, is the best thing we can do to solve the myriad of challenges that we experience. 

The National Youth Coalition will continue to commemorate Youth Day by encouraging all young people to unite in our shared struggles and demand accountability and change. We are hopeful of building a democracy that centres young people and their development at its core in order to build a thriving and prosperous nation. The call has been made to all in society, the question is whether we will follow. 

It’s our time. It’s our turn. But if we don’t do our part, it’s our fault! DM

Irfaan Mangera is the interim and outgoing Chairperson of the National Youth Coalition. He is the head of Civic Alliances at Rise Mzansi

Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change 2023: On June 16th young people will meet at the Loftus Versveld park at 9am before heading to the Union Buildings lawns. An action packed programme of speakers and artists will commence, before the handover of a memorandum to the officials from the presidency. The day will conclude by attendees engaging various organizations through talks and discussions on the work they do, and particularly on how to take forward the issues faced by young people today. For more information contact Bomi Bukali: +27 63 169 3426


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Take the word “struggle”out of your lexicon, and replace it with educate. The time for toyi-toying is well and truly over – the best thing all youngsters can do is to concentrate on studying and getting the best education they can.

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