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Report: South Africa

South Africans remember the youth of 1976

D.Finnan

South Africans celebrated Youth Day on Sunday, marking the 37th anniversary of the Soweto uprising. At a commemoration event in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, President Jacob Zuma discussed the different challenges young people face today, compared to those who “took on the might of the apartheid state”.

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D.Finnan

“I have heard tales of children as young as eight years old who are now addicted to drugs,” Zuma said. He outlined the struggle against crime, teenage pregnancy, truancy, the fight against mob justice and xenophobia.

Zuma thanked the youth of 1976 who helped bring democracy to South Africa. He talked about the “heroism” of those involved in the student protests in Soweto on 16th June 1976. Apartheid-era police launched a violent crackdown leaving hundreds dead. The official death toll was 23.

“We used to come and sit outside here because we’d boycotted our classes due to lessons changed to Afrikaans,” said Loraine, who attended one of the schools in the Orlando West district of the Soweto township.

Charmaine, a mother and member of the African National Congress’ Women’s League, remembered the moment the first shot was fired.

“When the police starting shooting, that’s when all hell broke loose,” she said. “You know we were hiding the children and getting water to stop the teargas, because they were shooting our children,” she added.

Shortly afterwards the UN Security Council passed Resolution 392 strongly condemning the South African government. The UN said it was “deeply shocked” and convinced that the large-scale killings had been brought about by apartheid and racial discrimination.

Meanwhile, at a special service at the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, Father Sebastian Rossouw also questioned the difference between the youth of 1976 and of today.

Report: Youth Day at Regina Mundi church

The Regina Mundi church, the largest in South Africa, played a special role during apartheid and the Soweto uprisings. It was used for political gatherings when they were banned. While on 16th June 1976 many students fled to the church, although it was later stormed by police who fired live ammunition.

At the end of his 7:00am sermon on Sunday, Rossouw said that there was not really any difference between the different generations of youth. There are some young people who have lost their way, he said, but South Africans must continue to pick up the pieces after the end of apartheid.

However, not all of his parishioners agree. 19-year-old Neo said increased freedom is not necessarily always positive.

“They gave us too much freedom,” he said. “You’ll find that in 1976 there was less drinking, less killings. But now more killings and more drinking, so yes, there’s a huge, huge change,” he added.

For 33-year-old Simphiwe, the youth today should learn lessons from those of 1976.

“They were go-getters, the youth of today they’re more entitled to things, which is not a good thing,” the compliance manager said. “It’s not what the guys in 1976 fought for. So if that could change, it would be beneficial to the country, most definitely.”

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