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Youth Day: Today, Tomorrow, Forever

The history behind Youth Day, PASCAP’s mission, and the lives of our learners are intimately intertwined…

To commemorate Youth Day, the day South Africa annually recognizes the courageous participants of the Soweto Uprising, the learners at PASCAP’s Lakheni ASC centre put together a passionate performance about the events of June 16, 1976. They began with each student recounting the various ways apartheid oppressed black people, as well as racist myths that sustained the system.

The Soweto Uprising was a response to the deliberate suppression of black success and livelihood through the miseducation of black children. The specific event that incited the youth to join together in protest was the introduction of compulsory instruction in Afrikaans in black schools. This policy was not the first effort of the government to undermine black education, however. The Bantu Education Act implemented in 1953 by the apartheid government legalized the systematic placement of black students at under-resourced, under-funded, and over-crowded schools. The Bantu Educational system purposely limited the scope of opportunities available to black people to manual and menial labour positions. The architects of apartheid understood the power of education as the means to empowerment and liberation; they depleted schools serving black children and used education as a tool of oppression. On June 16, thousands of students mobilized to defend their education, their freedom.

To the world’s horror, the government’s response to the student-led protest was violent and cruel. The police force used tear gas and opened fired on the student protestors which resulted in hundreds of fatalities.

We celebrate Youth Day to honour the young lives lost. Children died fighting for their fundamental human right to a quality education. One reason PASCAP is able to pursue its mission today is because of the efforts of the students of the Soweto Uprising. Their bravery and refusal to comply with oppressive educational policies is considered a major turning point for the anti-apartheid movement.

Major progress has been made since the Soweto Uprising; however, vulnerable youth continue to live in impoverished communities that lack opportunity. PASCAP provides safe, welcoming, and empowering spaces for these youth. We work to ensure that today’s children in marginalized communities have a chance at a future full of possibilities, the type of future that the protestors of 1976 were denied.

The Lakheni learners’ performance represented a convergence of the past, present, and future. It was a powerful experience to watch them act out the events of that day with such passion. In the closing scene of their performance, they sat on the ground clutching the bodies of their slain peers singing. The pain in their voices was evident, and it became clear how deeply these students understood the significance of the sacrifices of those who came before them.

It’s important for today’s youth, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to remember the legacy of the Soweto Uprising. It’s important for them to know that the same spirit of perseverance is in them. They too have the ability to reject injustice, stand up for what is right, and take control of their fate. The legacy of Youth Day deserves to be remembered as long as a quality education continues to hold power, which it will – today, tomorrow and forever.

– Brooke Porter

29 June 2018

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