The Economic Freedom Fighters described the youth of the time as determined and selfless freedom fighters, who would continue to inspire many more generations to come.
“It is gospel truth that the youth of 1976 defined a generational mission for themselves which was to challenge the apartheid system,” EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement.
He said the youth of the time used language to oppose the racist and oppressive apartheid regime.
Monday marks South Africa’s 38th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprisings. On 16 June 1976, a group of schoolchildren set off from Morris Isaacson High School in Orlando, Soweto, to protest over Afrikaans being the medium of instruction, among other grievances against the apartheid government.
There was a stand-off with police, who opened fire on the children. The township was sealed off and attacks on government buildings followed; as well as the flight of many youths and political leaders into exile. This day is now commemorated as youth day.
Ndlozi said the EFF adopted its founding manifesto in response to generational challenges that currently faced the country.
“These questions were about how will poverty, unemployment, and inequalities be resolved seeing that the government of the day has abandoned the mission of radical transformation of society that has been flowing from generation to generation.”
He said the party’s answer was “economic freedom in our lifetime”.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was speaking at the official youth day event in Galeshewe in the Northern Cape on Monday, said the 1976 generation prevailed in their struggle against all odds.
“Thanks to their struggles, and the struggles of those who followed, today the youth of 2014 live in a country free of racial discrimination and oppression.”
KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu said in a statement that events such as the Soweto Uprising were not remembered because they were happy, but because such historical moments represented turning points in the struggle for freedom and democracy.
“The central question facing the youth today is deepening democracy and expanding opportunities to the previously disadvantaged communities that continue to be mired in the triangle of poverty, inequality and unemployment.”
Also stressed was the need for more employment opportunities for the youth.
Mchunu said the KwaZulu-Natal government would soon announce new strategies to fast-track youth empowerment.
Ramaphosa said a co-ordinated and multi-pronged response to youth unemployment was needed.
“If we can effectively address youth unemployment, not only will we lift millions of South Africans out of poverty, but we will also place our economy on a trajectory of sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Ramaphosa.
The Young Communist League of SA urged the youth to meaningfully participate in government and society to tackle the problems confronting their generation.
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, addressing a youth day rally in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, also spoke of the need for jobs for the youth.
“Where are the jobs, President [Jacob] Zuma? While we are struggling here, it is all pleasurable in Nkandla. Their cattle eat KFC.”
Maimane said the money spent on upgrades to Zuma’s Nkandla homestead could have been better used to build classrooms equipped with technology.
“If you are 18 today, your chances of finding work are getting less and less under the current government. A job is a first step out of poverty. It is a step towards freedom,” Maimane said.
The Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League said in a statement that landless youth faced a bleak future, with few prospects for education and work.
It drew a comparison between the death of Hector Pieterson and that of a young protester killed last year.
“Hector Pieterson was murdered by the apartheid police on 16 June 1976… Nqobile Nzuza was murdered by the ANC’s police on 30 September 2013,” the organisation said.
Nzuza, 17, was shot dead during an anti-eviction protest in Marikana. Witnesses claimed she was shot while running away from the police, who admit to the shooting but say they were acting in self-defence.