Youth Day: UP VC on the power of young people to shape SA’s democracy

Posted on June 16, 2024

This year, South Africa marks the 48th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, which began on 16 June 1976. Since 1994, Youth Day has been observed annually on this day as a tribute to those who paid a heavy price for challenging South Africa’s education system at the time.

“It remains a memorable day for South Africans and for many around the world,” says Professor Themba Mosia, University of Pretoria (UP) Interim Vice-Chancellor and Principal, who extends his wishes to the University community this Youth Day as it honours the courage and sacrifices of the young people who catalysed change in South Africa.

“It was a time when the apartheid government had a firm grip on its segregationist policies,” Prof Mosia adds. “I recall thick purple books being hastily delivered to our classrooms in 1975, with the advent of the so-called New Structure of the curriculum, as enforced by the Bantu Education Act (Act No. 47 of 1953). I also recall the sad faces of learners who were forced to memorise words or be subjected to corporal punishment. The tipping point was the protests on 16 June 1976 in Soweto which rapidly spread to many parts of the country. The consequences were devastating for many. It is remarkable how this resilient nation has overcome its past in educating youth since the dawn of our constitutional democracy in 1994.”

The theme this Youth Month – ‘Actively embracing the socio-economic gains of our democracy’ – highlights the strides that have been made since the end of apartheid, and the ongoing efforts to achieve economic and social justice.   

“The youth of 1976 demonstrated immense bravery in their stand against the oppressive Bantu Education Act and apartheid laws,” Prof Mosia says. “Their legacy is a reminder of the power of youth activism in shaping our democracy. As we celebrate their contributions, we also recognise the role of South Africa’s youth in creating a better future for all, and the role of the University in the empowerment of youth through quality education.”

However, there is much to be done to realise the dreams of South Africa’s young people, especially when considering the state of the country’s economy and the alarming rate of youth unemployment. This year’s Youth Day commemoration is especially significant as it coincides with the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy.

“The progress we have made over the past 30 years is a testament to the resilience and vision of our youth,” Prof Mosia says. “It is imperative that we continue to nurture and support young people, providing them with opportunities to lead and innovate.”

The University of Pretoria remains committed to fostering an environment where young minds can thrive, Prof Mosia adds.

“As we remember the past, we must also look forward, ensuring that our young people are equipped to contribute to a brighter, more equitable future. Although the employability of UP graduates is commendable, we cannot rest until a significant number of young people, who are the future of this nation, are able to realise the dream of the Class of 1976.”

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