Today South Africa commemorates Youth Day, in honour of thousands of black students in Soweto who took to the streets this day in 1976 in protest against the apartheid government’s Bantu education system, which they slated as unjust and inferior compared to that of their white counterparts.
The decree that Afrikaans had to be used as a medium of instruction in township schools was at the core of the protest.
More than 500 of the students were killed in the riots that quickly spread countrywide, while many others were left injured during run-ins with armed police.
And as South Africans celebrate the young people’s courage and determination that changed the country’s socio-economic landscape, Amnesty International South Africa is urging government to pay attention to the needs of today’s youth who are feeling unheard, desperate and despondent – if it wants to avoid another uprising like 1976.
Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director, Shenilla Mohamed, says the youth cannot continue to be punished for the government’s failure.
“The hope of a bright and prosperous future that was created after the 1994 elections is all but gone, as the youth face the harsh reality of low quality education and high youth unemployment,” Mohamed says.
The organisation believes that the recent findings that over 80% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning, illustrates that the government continues to fail to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to basic education for all.
It’s also raised concern over the latest unemployment statistics, which showed that 36.1% of 15 to 24-year-olds are not in employment, education or training. The report also shows that the higher the level of education, the lower the chance of unemployment.
“If the government wants young people to participate in the economy – to contribute to the future of the country – it needs to ensure that every child, no matter their background, is given a quality basic education, and a chance at the opportunities an education can bring,” adds the Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director.
She is urging Pretoria to put human rights at the heart of its policies and plans.
“It has been 47 years since the youth stood up against a system designed to deny them quality education, and yet many of them still face the issue of an unequal education system, which is still plagued by the legacy of apartheid. In recent years this inequality has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and loadshedding,” Mohamed said.
“The government needs a wake-up call. South Africa’s education system continues to be broken and unequal, risking snuffing out the potential bright futures of children across the country.”
Deputy President, Paul Mashatile, is leading the country’s Youth Day official celebration in Bloemfontein as President Cyril Ramaphosa is on the African leaders’ mission to the Ukraine as part of efforts to foster peace between Kyiv and Moscow.
— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) June 16, 2023
On this #YouthDay2023 we remember the words of Ahmed Kathrada in his letter addressed to the youth of South Africa when being banned in 1954. Below is an extract from the letter. pic.twitter.com/2NReNfnwxX
— Kathrada Foundation (@KathradaFound) June 16, 2023
— Ricardo Mackenzie MPL🇿🇦 (@ricardomackenzi) June 16, 2023
This is the current queue at Naserc.
The Gauteng Government today is launching the Jobs Fair campaign. We have one of the highest youth unemployment rates. And this queue is indicative of that rate. Young people have been queueing since early this morning. #eNCA #YouthDay2023 pic.twitter.com/YnKDv56HSO
— Heidi Giokos (@HeidiGiokos) June 16, 2023
Written by: Lindiwe Mabena