Address of the President of the Republic Of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Youth Day celebrations: Absa Stadium, Buffalo City Municipality

16 June 2007


Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
Minister in the Presidency responsible for youth affairs, Essop Pahad,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Premier of the Eastern Cape province, Nosimo Balindlela,
Your Worship, Executive Mayor of the Buffalo City Municipality, Ntombentle Peter,
National Youth Commission Chairperson, Nomi Nkondlo,
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,
Distinguished guests,
Comrades,
Fellow South Africans:


I would like to greet all our people who have gathered on this important day in our national calendar the National Youth Day. On June 16, 1976, multitudes of South African youth emerged from township school classrooms to confront a brutal system of racial oppression universally condemned as 'a crime against humanity.'


Propelled by the basic human urge to be free, this generation of young men and women took to the streets of Soweto and many of our townships in a show of defiance to the apartheid system. Today, 31 years on, we have gathered here and elsewhere across our country to remember this epoch-making chapter in the history of our struggle for freedom.


Indeed, we have once again come together to celebrate the lives of this generation that hurled itself at the juggernaut of apartheid, driven by the spirit of freedom, justice, democracy and equality. Determined to do everything humanly possible to bring about freedom in our land, they unlocked a wave of human energy unequalled in the history of our country. In essence, as we gather to commemorate the fateful events of that time, we are equally celebrating the lives of the young men and women who took a resolution never to live under apartheid oppression, nor to allow the lives of the coming generations to be destroyed by racial oppression.


Today as we look back at that era we can, with hindsight, confidently say the June 1976 generation ably responded to the imperatives of their time. Indeed we can, aided by the vantage of history, state that the 1976 generation defined for itself its life purpose and set about fulfilling it. Aware that they had the responsibility to determine their destiny, the youth of June 16 refused to be distracted by the ordinary things that attract the youth.
They sought and found the courage to rise against the apartheid monster so that, out of the ruins of the apartheid system, they could lay the foundations upon which would raise a new nation. We have gathered here and elsewhere in our country to celebrate this generation, which took the liberation struggle to a higher trajectory.


Through their remarkable acts of bravery born of the determination to assert their humanity, they irreversibly pushed back the frontiers of oppression. Unity, vision and adherence to principles were the mortar and bricks that built this generation into the mighty force that helped to bring us the freedom we enjoy today.
Fellow South Africans:


The struggle for a better society spans generations, with each generation called upon by the imperatives of its age to carry out its 'generational mandate'.
Each succeeding generation faces the responsibility carefully to study its social conditions, accordingly to set its own agenda, so that it can contribute to a better human condition. Our current generation of young people owes it to history to protect and champion the ideals of social justice, an abiding culture of human rights, and a humane, just and equitable social order.


What then, are the challenges the present generation has to grapple with? What kind of youth consciousness is needed today to address the kind of issues thrown up by a free, non-racial society? Indeed, what are the characteristics required of the present generation to measure up to the challenges faced by our democratic order? Importantly, how does the current generation ensure continued contribution to the systematic national effort to undo the pervasive social reality spawned by apartheid?


These are the questions that must be answered during the process of building a better society for all our people, black and white, and to create conditions that will allow the youth of our country to enjoy their lives in conditions of total freedom. Correctly, the youth of our country today have to confront the question whether, in these conditions of freedom, they have marked out a role for themselves, necessarily to help bring to fruition the objectives of this free society set in motion by the youth of June 16, 1976.


The task at hand for all the youth of our country in post-apartheid society, 31 years after 1976, and 13 years into our freedom, is to mobilise our collective energies to advance the transformation project of our country, and to build a united and prosperous nation. Today in post-apartheid South Africa, 13 years into this hard-won democracy, our youth face the task to identify and define for itself the societal challenges embedded in the womb of our era.


Unavoidably, this task will not be easy, but has to be accomplished lest we, collectively as society, betray the legacy, values and vision that have, over the years of struggle, given shape and meaning to the character of the South Africa that the June '76 generation sought to create.


Our youth today, during this period of building a united, non-racial and non-sexist society, need to cultivate a clear understanding of the kind of socio-economic conditions we will inevitably pass on to the next generation. More than ever before, the challenges of reconstruction and development in our country cannot be tackled effectively without a deepened understanding of strategic societal issues.


To what extent do our youth today understand the intricate nature of a modern economy? How deep is our understanding of globalisation and other related global challenges that have a bearing on our country, and indeed, our continent's development trajectory? How pervasive is the culture of reading among the youth of our country? And how eagerly are those with skills and knowledge among our youth prepared to put these critical requisites at the service of society?


Fellow South Africans,


During the 1980s a new generation of youth emerged, conscious of the political need to continue to wage the struggle for a free South Africa.
Again, with his ever-lucid political mind, OR Tambo called this generation 'the Young Lions'. That generation of the young people of our country has, like the
1976 generation before it, responded to the dictates of its conscience, taking up the cudgels rightly to meet the requirements of its age. Today we look forward to the present generation to take forward the struggle in the context of the different conditions of freedom we have created ourselves.


Correctly, we need to ask the question whether this generation is living up to our country's long tradition of youth leadership on major questions of the day.
What is the present generation doing to help government and the rest of society to address the challenges of teenage pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse as well as the challenge of deepening democracy in our country? Whereas the past generations of youth fought to reclaim our humanity from those who had set themselves the impossible task of denying it to us, the present youth should seek to fulfil the sense of our humanity.


Indeed, celebrating life and freedom within the context of social responsibility and awareness call for deepening our knowledge with regard to challenges that face our nation, our continent and our world. Among others, we need to fulfil the sense of our humanity through being aware of major issues such as globalisation, climate change, unfair global trade, technological challenges, the threat of terrorism, racism, xenophobia and sexism, human trafficking and multilateralism and global governance.
At the same time, all of us must understand that we cannot fulfil the dreams

of a better life for all our people when our communities are faced with a serious problem of young drug addicts and alcoholics who face a bleak future and constitute a liability to society. We cannot fulfil the dreams of a better life for all, for which thousands of the 1976 generation lost their lives, if our young people are caught up in irresponsible sexual lifestyles.


We cannot fulfil the dreams of a better life for all, when in our schools, which are there to serve as nurseries to prepare our youth for the future, we find learners carrying dangerous knives, guns and drugs. We cannot build a caring society when the taking of human life and acts of robbery become commonplace. The foundations for the future have to be laid today. But if our youth, who are supposed to be at the heart of that future, are languishing in jails because of crime, or are turned into young mothers because of teenage pregnancies, we will not fully succeed to lay this foundation.


Without critical social consciousness among the young generation we cannot build a society based on good moral foundations, compliance with the law, respect for our democratic institutions and a culture of upholding the constitution. Our country's reconstruction and development efforts should be underwritten by active involvement of our youth in moral regeneration efforts and supporting government programmes that are geared to fighting poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and crime.


We live in a globalised world shaped by powerful forces that impact on the destinies of weak, poor and developing nations. Understanding globalisation issues enable us to develop a critical consciousness about our responsibilities in the world, so that based on this knowledge, we can, correctly, wage struggles for global justice, peace and equality.
Today, as the challenges embodied in globalisation continue to bear down on the developing south, our youth must begin to question dominant forms of discourse and relations that shape the agenda of world affairs. They have the responsibility to ask questions about the distribution process of the fruits of the earth, and begin to elevate the agenda of the developing nations, placing it on the table of the multilateral institutions.


There cannot be any future for our youth to inherit if global warming continues unabated through the destructive production and consumption patterns of the rich and powerful from the developed world who have, due to their power, voraciously amassed the wealth of the planet earth without regard for the consequences of their actions on the rest of humanity.


Like the June '76 detachment that shook the world through pursuing the agenda of equality, justice, and democracy, our youth should be seized with the task to strive for a world free of domination, poverty, racism, sexism, and under-development. Again, we need to pause to ask the proper question: what kind of youth do we need today in post-apartheid South Africa, 13 years into our freedom?


As youth who will rightfully claim the future, we need to begin now to re-imagine reality. We need to begin now to roll our sleeves to work towards the reconstruction and development of the African continent and continue to strive for a humane, peaceful and prosperous world. We need to begin now to understand the challenges that undermine the yearnings of the people of Africa and world to extricate their lives from the trap of poverty, powerlessness, under-development and inequality.


Fellow South Africans:


We need to accelerate our own national efforts towards the development and empowerment of our youth. For this reason, among other things, a bursary and a loan programme for new and young teachers has been established so as to prepare these young people to be better leaders of tomorrow. Government, through the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa), has identified the need for development of scarce skills among our youth. Such scarce and critical skills include artisans, boilers, engineers, town planners etc.


In order to accelerate this process, government has allocated R600 million towards the recapitalisation of the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. During this financial year, more than 20 000 students have been registered for the National Certificate programmes. As part of promoting integration in our skills development effort, various skills development institutions such as the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), FET and centres of higher learning will implement provisions of the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) they have entered into.


Government has also increased the National Student Finance Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for needy university students among other things to address skills shortages in such areas as science, technology and engineering. Our skills development programme provides that we need to increase the number of young people doing mathematics and science at higher grade so that we improve the graduate output to 50 000 by 2008. Government continues to monitor the 529 Dinaledi schools where the project is currently being implemented.


As part of promoting healthy lifestyles among our youth, we continue to implement physical activity programmes. The campaign also promotes the development of food gardens in schools and communities and anti-smoking initiatives among young people. Government has also undertaken to embark on an awareness campaign to reduce illegal drugs and substance abuse among our youth. Our safety and security agencies conduct regular operations to end the movement and abuse of drugs.


Towards the end of last year, Cabinet took a decision that, as part of accelerating youth economic participation a Presidential Youth Development Forum must be set up, chaired by the Deputy President and the National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairperson. The inaugural sitting of the forum is set to take place on Monday, 18 June 2007. This forum will help us to promote more understanding among the business community that our youth are the future and investing in them today contributes towards sustainable development of our economy.


A research study conducted by the National Youth Commission points that only 25% of our municipalities have local youth units and 24% have youth policies. This tells us that the integration of youth development in our local government work still requires radically to be improved. More individuals and organisations are called upon to support government and the youth development leadership to carry out the work of responding to the challenges facing young people.


Fellow South Africans:

One thousand and ninety one (1 091) days separate us from the kick-off of the 2010 Soccer World Cup very little time indeed. This means our youth should have started positioning themselves to assist our country and the continent to host one of the best Soccer World Cup tournaments ever seen. Our youth should continue engaging the various role-players on the opportunities arising from this festival of young sports people, many of whom would be coming to Africa for the first time.


I would also like to take this opportunity to convey our best wishes to the athletes, young and old, who will be participating in the Comrades Marathon tomorrow. To all young and not-so-young people participating in various sports activities this weekend I would like to say - Good Luck! I wish everyone a happy Youth Day.


Thank you.


Issued by: The Presidency
16 June 2007

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