Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, on the Occasion of the Commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the 1976 Youth Uprisings, FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, 16 June 2006

Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Minister in The Presidency responsible for youth affairs, Essop Pahad
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Premier of Gauteng, Mbhazima Shilowa
Your Worship, Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Amos Masondo
National Youth Commission Chairperson, Jabu Mbalula
National and Provincial Youth Commissioners
Youth leaders and our esteemed youth
Members of the June 16th Foundation
Leaders of our political parties and civil society formations
Our religious and traditional leaders
The distinguished national, provincial and national leaders and representatives of our people
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Our valued guests
Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow South Africans

On behalf of the government of the people, I convey the warmest greetings to all of you who have gathered here today and to the people of South Africa as a whole, wherever they are, on this important day in our calendar, National Youth Day.

I would like to thank the National Youth Commission for organising this important commemoration of the 1976 youth uprisings. We also thank them for the work they are doing to assist young people to confront today's many and varied challenges.

We are gathered here today, as part of our country's observance of the 30th Anniversary of the heroic actions of the youth of South Africa who faced the might of the apartheid forces from June 16th 1976 onwards.

Earlier today some of us walked in the footsteps of the thousands of young heroes and heroines who died, were maimed and persecuted, as they fought the apartheid forces of repression three decades ago.

We walked from Morris Isaacson High School and crossed the Mofolo Bridge to the Hector Petersen Memorial, to pay homage to the young people who intervened 30 years ago to speed up our advance to freedom.

This day, National Youth Day, is a moment of thanksgiving dedicated to the young people of our country for the contribution they made to free South Africa from the tyranny of apartheid.

It gives all of us the opportunity to salute the courageous actions of our youth, whose struggles made it possible for us to begin the labour of love, to build a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

In this regard, it is important that we should always remember all the brave young people those who started the Uprising in Soweto on the 16 June 1976 and are not with us today such as Tsietsi Mashinini, Hector Petersen, Lassie Ndlovu, Khotso Seatlholo, as well as thousands of others from all corners of our country, both urban and rural.

I therefore humbly request that all South Africans who are participating in the various rallies to commemorate June 16, as well as those at home, should spend a solemn moment of contemplation, however brief it may be, to remember the difficult days of struggle that claimed many lives, and to salute the courageous young people who helped to accelerate the pace of our struggle for freedom.

We remember the youth of 1976 because they have left us a lesson that it is possible for young people to stand up and confront the challenges facing them. We remember them because they have left a legacy of bravery and determination in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable difficulties.

We remember them because we would like the youth gathered here today and their comrades throughout our country, to follow their example of unwavering commitment, as they confront the modern day challenges of poverty and unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, AIDS and other diseases, illiteracy, women and child abuse, and other problems that make the lives of our youth difficult.

Less than two months ago we celebrated the 12th anniversary of our liberation. Much has been done during our years of freedom to respond to the challenge to provide a better life for all our people. This includes the important task to promote youth empowerment and development.

However, despite everything that has been done, all of us know that we still have a long road ahead of us before we can say that we have made sufficient progress towards achieving the goal of youth empowerment and development.

All of us know there are still some children who go to school hungry. We know that there are still some children who attend school in dilapidated buildings. We know that we still have much to do to improve the quality of education in many of our schools.

We also know that even when our young people manage to reach our institutions of higher learning, a good number among them find it difficult to get jobs and otherwise use their qualifications to build sustainable livelihoods.

All of us therefore know that one of our biggest challenges is to reduce youth unemployment and the consequent poverty that afflicts many of our young people.

We also know that we are still confronted by a serious problem of the abuse of children and young women, including the heinous crime of rape.

With regard to these and other challenges, all of us must answer the question whether we are doing enough, individually and collectively, to empower and develop our youth, and show them through our deeds that they are growing up in a society that really cares about their future.

Individually and collectively we should answer these questions by doing practical work, to ensure that our youth attend school, that they get good education, acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for their own development and their full participation in the reconstruction of our country, and, at all times, have someone to turn to in case of need.

To help address this challenge, our government has continuously sought to ensure that young people have better access to education at all levels. As we know, our interventions in this regard include the school feeding scheme, building new schools and classrooms, and providing bursaries for poor students through the National Student Finance Aid Scheme, to make it possible for many young people to access higher education.

But as we know, the levels of poverty in our country mean that, for many young people, even the money made available through the National Student Finance Aid Scheme is not enough. It is important therefore that all of us, individually and collectively, should find additional ways to assist our young people to access higher education.

To make further progress in youth development, among other things, our government is now working to improve our Further Education and Training colleges, to increase youth access to the skills our economy and society need.

At the same time, we must pay particular attention to the task to improve the competence of our teachers and the quality of teaching, as well as improve the performance of our schools in such areas as science and mathematics. We must also improve our counselling system to guide our youth to choose the relevant and satisfying careers.

We must also continue to value our youth as an important part of our population, as tomorrow's adults and as the future leaders of our country and society.

In this regard we should strive to inspire our youth with the ethos and values of Ubuntu. This means that it is the duty of every adult member of our communities to contribute to the proper upbringing and socialisation of young people, teaching them such important values as personal integrity, solidarity with the poor, selflessness and preparedness to do voluntary work that benefits our communities.

In the spirit of the morality that inspired the June 16 generation that helped to liberate our country, today's youth should join the fight against women and child abuse. They should engage in struggle against corruption wherever it rears its ugly head, whether in business, in government or in our communities.

The youth of today should honour the martyrs of 1976 by defending the gains of our freedom, refusing to be part of those who disrespect our freedom by abusing other people, robbing, raping, killing and destroying public and private property.

They should take the lead in honouring the principles and the intent of our Constitution, because by so doing they will be advancing the struggle for a better South Africa for which the youth of 1976 made enormous sacrifices.

The youth of today should be at forefront of public discussion concerning the resolution of the many challenges that face our society.

They should help the South African society that is being born properly to define itself, respecting our history, and our diverse cultures and traditions.

As we work to create opportunities for the development of our youth, we must also ensure that the youth is informed of these opportunities.

These include the programmes provided by the Umsobomvu Youth Fund to enable the youth to start their own businesses, and to expand enterprises they might be running.

We must also mobilise the youth to participate in strengthening all spheres of our system of government. With regard to local government, among other things, we must strive to involve the youth in the Ward Committees, and include youth development programmes in the municipal Integrated Development Plans.

As an example of what can be done, we are encouraged, among others, by the involvement of the National Youth Commission, through the National Youth Service, in a housing construction project in the North West Province, in partnership with the Moses Kotane Municipality.

The houses that have been built were handed over to poor families in March this year. This initiative demonstrates the same spirit and commitment of the youth of 1976, to work together to change our society for the better.

Indeed, we must continue to work to ensure that youth development is fully integrated in our national development initiatives such as the Expanded Public Works Programme, the various learnerships and the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (AsgiSA).

We are indeed very happy that the National Youth Commission has been dealing with many of the development challenges facing the youth of our country. I am confident that guided by the National Youth Development Policy Framework, and working with all structures of government, the Youth Commission will continue to help guide youth development in our country.

In this context, by agreement with the National Youth Commission, we are:

  • Setting up 100 new Youth Advisory Centres in all the provinces, to ensure the full participation of young people in the democratic and development processes of this country.
  • Enrolling at least 10 000 young people in our National Youth Service.
  • Enrolling 5 000 young volunteers to act as mentors to vulnerable children.
  • Expanding the reach of our business support system to young people and intensifying the Youth Cooperatives Programme.
  • Closely monitoring the impact of our programmes targeted on youth employment, skills training and business development.

Through these and other efforts we are making practical efforts to enable our youth to participate in all aspects of our life. We are working to ensure that our young people access all available opportunities. We seek to create the possibility for them to use their talents to improve themselves and help build the new South Africa.

Today, there are many young people who are involved in the informal economy. We must support and assist these young people to join the formal business sector, especially within the category of small, medium and micro enterprises. This must include both access to finance and business skills.

This also applies to those who are unemployed and are unable to make a living for no fault of their own. We must reach out to these young people, among other things to assist them to acquire the requisite skills and resources that would afford them the opportunity to take the high road to success.

To assist young people to achieve such success, I urge the National Youth Commission, the Umsobomvu Youth Fund, and all structures of government, to make the relevant information easily available to young people in all parts of our country, and go out of their way to ensure that they are accessible to our youth.

Further, we must improve our efforts to facilitate the placement in our companies of unemployed young people with priority skills and various educational qualifications, who are on the Umsobomvu Youth Fund database.

I would also like to take advantage of this historic anniversary to urge our municipalities to provide libraries and sports fields for young people. We must also ensure that our schools and other educational institutions are able to take advantage of modern communication and information technologies. In addition, our schools should enable our learners to participate in extra-mural activities such as organised debates and sport.

I also appeal to business people and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to contribute whatever they can to help young people, particularly in black areas, to improve their skills and develop themselves as well-rounded individuals. Let all of us, led by our health workers; continue to teach our youth about the importance of safe sex and healthy life styles.

Clearly, it is only through a concerted effort by all social forces in our country that we can speed up our progress towards meeting the objective we have set ourselves of achieving youth empowerment and development.

Individually and collectively, let us identify something practical that we can do to help our young people. This could be a training project, a mentoring programme, engagement in extra lessons for learners, participation in a poetry group or a sports club.

Let us, together, help the young people of our country to defeat the idleness, boredom and absence of opportunities that lead to anti-social activities, and lives that amount to a future of hopelessness. On this historic day, let each one of us say that we have a duty to do something to help realise the dreams of our youth!

To our youth, I would like to say draw inspiration from, and emulate the determination to succeed, currently being demonstrated by the athletes of all ages who are, as we speak, participating in this year's Comrades Marathon.

We extend our best wishes to all the participants in this outstanding annual sports event, understanding clearly that the national race to achieve the objective of youth development and empowerment, and a better life for all, demands of all of us the perseverance, the determination, the patience and stamina of the long-distance runners who are competing in the Comrades Marathon.

I wish you all a very happy National Youth Day. May the courage and vision displayed by our youth, 30 years ago on 16 June 1976, serve to inspire and motivate all of us as we strive to bring happiness to our youth and people during this, our Age of Hope.

Long live the memory of the June 16 martyrs!

Issued by: The Presidency
16 June 2006

Source: SAPA

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