Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the 1976 student uprising in Soweto which saw thousands of students marching – and some paying the ultimate price – to have their voices heard.
On June 16 1976, scores of students gathered at their schools to participate in a protest following an announcement by the Bantu Education Department imposing Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools. While making their way to the Orlando soccer stadium in a peaceful manner, singing struggle songs, police officers confronted the students and tried to turn them back.
When their attempts were unsuccessful they tried to disperse the crowd – which had grown to about 10 000 students — with tear gas and warning shots.
When this failed, the officers fired live ammunition, directly into the crowd injuring hundreds of students and killing two, Hastings Ndlovu and Hector Pieterson.
This sparked a massive uprising which soon spread throughout South Africa.
And today, although the Constitution allows every South African freedom of expression, many members of the youth still fight a silent battle. This week young people from Hout Bay shared their struggle to voice their opinions.
Phumelela Tomtala, 23, and Deborah Mkhapuza, 26, said unlike their parents, they are not just faced with the struggle of fighting unjust laws and overcoming racial segregation. “We have often been referred to as the ‘lazy generation’ because our parents feel we are not as driven as they were.
“One thing that I can guarantee is that our struggles are more complex than those our parents were faced with,” Phumelela said. They said living in a township like Imizamo Yethu – which is surrounded by neighbourhoods with so much wealth and influence, can be daunting.
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One would think that the challenges would be less compared to other townships in the country but in fact, it is contrary to that.
“Emerging from your over packed shack in the mornings and looking across the road to see your neighbours living in a huge mansion where the garage is the same size as your entire house can be very intimidating,” Deborah said.
She said it was a constant reminder that the youth should rise above their circumstance and make a better living for themselves but there are so many factors preventing them from doing so.
However, she said, this is not the biggest struggle faced by the youth today.
Political factors and corruption of the youth or the community as a whole has a huge impact in the lives of the youth.
“The inability to voice your opinion because you are ‘young’ takes away the sense of responsibility and leaves zero opportunity to scrutinise those in leadership positions where nepotism is rife and no opportunities are made available to other youths.
“Townships are seen as drug infested, crime filled communities, but the influencing factors to these are never investigated,” she said.
Phumelela said living in a township where everyone knew each other had its benefits and gave a person an identity. Identity is not just about being aware of your name and surname but knowing your background and your inner being and knowing you have the ability to express yourself without being put into a box by society.
However, he said, when it came to tradition – where something has been done in a similar way for many years – the youth lacked the motivation to explore opportunities be it career wise, religion or relationship wise.
“The fear of having your reputation tarnished seems to be the source of motivation for some or the lack of it for others,” she said.
He said this influenced the type of lifestyle the youth lived in townships and those who are bold enough to challenge these stigmas tended to succeed and grasp the opportunities which were presented to them although they were few and far between in a place like Imizamo Yethu.
But, then he said, those who do seize opportunities sometimes did not give back to their communities by means of mentoring others to break the vicious cycle of unemployment and poverty.
Deborah said there were a few educational institutions in the community, but that there was a lack of knowledge, especially when it came to careers.
“Children are expected to follow traditional professions, and not encouraged to follow their passions, which all comes back to the fear of being different.
“There are a lot of pupils within the community that have passed matric and have started working straight away. It is not because they do not want to study but because they have not really found their feet and often don’t have the opportunities to do so,” she said.
Lelethu Lolwana, 31, also an Imizamo Yethu resident, said the lack of a stabe home envirnment and leadership contributed to the problematic behaviour in the youth.
He said present day black communities were based on the framework of poverty and all youths born into these communities were immediately faced with this challenge.
Therefore from birth, he said, one had the challenge of getting out of it and while some succeeded in doing so, others failed.
“The failures are mostly not due to the lack of trying hard enough but not being able to grow up in an environment that nurtures a mindset of success,” he said.
He said to build up a strong-minded adult, that person must have grown up in a home that had adequate leadership.
That means that it should ideally be a home that has a father and mother who are actively guiding their children in a good way – in all aspects of life.
“Such a family is on the right path to building strong individuals who will not be influenced by outside peers or inappropriate behaviour,” he said.
He used Hout Bay as an example and said when observing family structures, there were many single parents – mostly with a father figure missing – and this was the cause of children stepping outside the boundaries of their home and being subjected to using drugs or getting involved in early sexual behaviour.
He said there were very fewactivities except for sport to distract the youth from such behaviour and in many cases they become overwhelmed by their situations.
“He said further contributing to the downfall of the youth were living environments which were not hygienic and safe.
“A child growing up in a shack gets exposed to more than they should, early in life – and this breeds a survival behaviour which they pick up from their surroundings – and this sometimes makes it difficult even for the parents themselves to control their own children,” he said.
He added that the lack of a library and internet facilities in Imizamo Yethu made it more difficult for the youth to maintain their interest in educating themselves further.
In 2012, he said, several young boys were killed in acts of gangsterism, and then last year, gangsterism flared up again.
“The boys who started the trouble last year witnessed the activities in 2012,” he said.
“This has led to the men in the community taking action to provide discipline and guidance to these boys – by applying a vigorous neighbourhood watch.
“The effectiveness of this has been due to the leadership role that has been taken by these men. However, one must take note of the extra load that is being put on these men and possibly consider the future impact of this stance. It is therefore important to realize the importance of home leadership as a possible source of this contention,” he said.
Stephanie Snyders, 22, a youth leader at the New Apostolic church in Hangberg believed the pressures faced by the youth today are equal to the pressures faced by the youth in the 70s, if not more.
She said peer pressure played a big role in youth develoment and young people were under immense pressure to perform well and not to be judged by society.
“Many problems concerning the youth today, such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and alcohol abuse are caused due to being under pressure. Some people give in easliy to temptation, they are not strong but with the right amount of support this can be changed,” she said.
She often works with the youth and said in many cases they only want someone to listen to them and their problems without passing judgement.
“Although being brought up in a good home and having an education will make a difference, understanding and supporting the person behind the problem is of vital importance,” she said.
Hangberg resident, Anthony Theunissen, 28, said the main struggles the youth face are unemployment. He said there was too little support from governmet and a lack of infrastructure to allow the youth to become succesful in life.
He is currently unemployed as his business, Hangberg Versatile Entertainment, was not succesful due to a lack of funds and support.
“I was crippled financially and there is no way out. Our fathers and their fathers before them built up the fishing industry and yet we cannot benefit from it because of quotas and restrictions by the government,” he said.
He believed that education does have the power to change the future, however, one must understand the dynamics of the youth and where they are coming from before it can happen.
Following the celebration of Youth Day yesterday, locals can look forward to a weekend of events, hosted by Harvest youth projec to commemorate the sacrifices made by the youth on June 16, 1976.
On Friday March 17 there will be a career expo at the Sports and Recreation Centre between 10am and 2pm. On Saturday June 18 there will be a variety show and talent search at the Civic Centre while on Sunday June 19 there will be a church service after wich MEC for safety and securuty, Dan Plato will give a talk at the sports and recreation centre from 2pm to 5pm.
For more information about the weekend’s activities, call Peter Michaels on 074 266 0988 or Pastor Frans on 079 067 1345.