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The devaluation of Youth Day in Soweto tells a story of despondency among young people

The devaluation of Youth Day in Soweto tells a story of despondency among young people
While June 16 was commemorated at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto, many other youth carried on with their day as usual. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

It’s business as usual in Soweto – whether it's hustling to make a living or scoring a fix – with little thought of what the public holiday used to stand for.

“Everything has changed. You can see I am also on my daily hustle. We used to have festivals on this day, but those have been replaced by a totally different kind of festivals, which cannot take place without alcohol and drugs,” Mpho Ramosime said. 

A hawker from Soweto, Ramosine (28) shared his views about Youth Day with Daily Maverick

“June 16 is the same as November 25. That’s not my birth date but that’s just one way to describe the decline from what this all-important day was,” he said. 

Ramosine, who is unemployed, said that after years of begging like other young people on busy days such as Easter and Christmas, he scraped together a little capital and purchased chips to sell. Now he spends his days hawking his goods around the Protea Gardens mall. 

When business isn’t so good in Protea, he normally goes to Lenasia or Bara mall. 

Despite the overthrow of the apartheid government and the attainment of freedom, the majority of youth like Ramosime do not find it kind to be called free. 

Many do not have jobs while the level of crime in many communities has skyrocketed.

Many have sought refuge in drugs, and the dealers are taking full advantage of the situation. And for addicts, 16 June is just another day to try and find a fix.

“I don’t see why you suggest that life should come to a standstill on June 16. There are no free meals on June 16. There are no free meals all year. There are no jobs. What do you want the people to do?” Mfundo Mlambo, who spends most of his days hustling in malls in Soweto, said.

As usual, commemorative events were held at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and other heritage sites around Soweto, with the theme focused on the empowerment of young people. 

Youth Day in Soweto

Learners from different schools pay their respects at the Hector Pieterson Memorial. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The government should stop making promises’

Many such gatherings have taken place over the years on June 16, but Vuyo Manaka said the government should stop making promises.

“They can fool their grandchildren, but they will not fool us. The government only speaks election language. Outside elections, they are rich mummies. And you tell me I must welcome them when they set foot in my yard next year. Never,” Manaka said.

The government takes the battering from all sectors of society.

A Sadtu-affiliated teacher at one of the high schools in Soweto said she was not surprised that life was going ahead as normal in Soweto.

“The situation in our country is appalling to many people who knew South Africa just two decades ago. Notwithstanding that the country was on an upward trajectory at the time. You want to ask yourself what happened,” she said.

“Now we cannot put the blame on despondent young people, many of whom yawn with their parents on a daily basis.”

‘Not all is lost’

Yet there are those who still hold onto hope.

“Not all is lost. We just have to regroup within and outside politics. We have for decades accepted that we cannot gather outside politics. We have been under the spell of political parties for far too long. We need to let go and start thinking about our collective future without politicians,” Amanda Sibisi, from Pimville, Soweto, said.

“Bad as things are, let’s not erase our history. June 16 will always remain an integral part of this country’s history. We would go crazy on June 16. We would put on our uniforms and gather in various places to reminisce about the day,” she said.

On Youth Day, many of the people Daily Maverick saw wearing school uniforms appeared to be too old for school and were clearly intoxicated. 

“That is what June 16 has been reduced to here in Soweto and elsewhere. That is what the day has come to represent. Drunkenness and indecency” Sibisi said. 

She said it was unfortunate that many young people were handicapped and depended solely on the government and that they lacked the mettle of the class of 1976. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: June 16, 47 years later — the more things change, the more they stay the same

Sarah Gcebe, a Mozambican national who sells fruits and vegetables outside one of the malls in Soweto, said business had neither picked up nor dropped. Gcebe said she anticipated taking home the same amount she did daily.

Gcebe (72), who has been in the country for a year and a half, said she had expected fireworks after listening to what people had been saying about the day and its history.

“I thought it would be busy, the kind of busy one would anticipate on the days leading to Christmas,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    I agree totally. Don’t be fooled, just vote DA young people. It is really the best thing you can do for your collective futures.

  • Gert Heese says:

    Don’t forget that the Bantu Administration Board’s monopoly on liquor trade was a major factor in the uprising. SAP’s clampdown on brewing of traditional beer was intensely hated by the community. The youth soon forgot their criticism of their parents and went the same way. Our unhealthy relationship with alcohol will hinder the development of the youth and country as whole. Unfortunately we can not rely on the ANC to guide us in the right direction.

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