The Hector Pieterson Foundation focusses on working with youth. This Youth Month they have partnered with the city of Johannesburg to launch a series of dialogues aimed at the youth of Soweto. Entitled Recall Your History, the first one took place at NASREC on 17 June.

onehpf South African youth need to be guided by the spirit of the youth of 1976. (Image: Mathiba Molefe)

Lessons from the class of 1976
Young South Africans pushed to take a stand
Playing a part to give youth a future
Barney Mokgatle fought back
Dr Edelstein never saw colour

Publishing Media Club South Africa stories - click here

The panel consisted of Buyi Majola, Antoinette Sithole, the SA Youth Council’s Thulani Tshefuta, Thulani Malatsi from Each 1 Teach 1 and Zama Qwabe of the University of Johannesburg’s SRC. The panel was eager to point out that equal education was a right that was hard won. It remains the greatest gift our country can bestow on its people. To deprive yourself of it, by burning down schools, was a slur on the memory of the students of 1976.

Sithole, Hector Pieterson’s sister, remembered that her brother may have been too young to fully understand what was going on on 16 June 1976. She felt that he would be safe as he accompanied her and thousands of other Soweto students on the march. The last time she saw him she yelled out, “Zolile (his traditional name) come closer, things are getting out of hand. He was smiling.”

Majola, Gauteng leader of the ANC Women’s League, insisted that the youth of today were responsible for moving the country forward. They needed to, she urged, build on the sacrifices of the youth of 1976. She reminded them that Nelson Mandela’s historic inauguration in May 1994 can be tied directly to the student uprising. “As a mother today I want you to know it is your responsibility to live by Madiba’s words, ‘Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.’”

As young as the audience of high school students were, Tshefuta pointed out that their actions counted. The audience needed to learn from their history and take action that will be to the benefit of their community. Education, he prodded, was the one thing guaranteed to take them forward. That was the most important lesson to be learned from the 1976 generation.

“Education is the solution to many of the challenges facing youth today. By not taking education seriously today, we are taking for granted the blood spilled in 1976. And we cannot as a nation allow that.”

threehpf Dorothy Molefe, Hector Pieterson's mother, was an honoured guest. (Image: Mathiba Molefe)

Students who faced the oppression of the apartheid regime in 1976 wanted one thing – freedom in their lifetime. For them, Malatsi contended, schools had to become centres of excellence within their communities. They demanded, as per the Freedom Charter, that the doors of learning had to be open to all.

Malatsi, who was detained as a student activist in the 1980’s spoke to his own history during the school boycotts of that decade. Even at the height of the regime’s most violent crackdowns, when they deployed the army to townships, students did not burn down their schools. “We learned to yearn for education. We may have been unruly during the day, but under candle light we studied.”

Many who were students in 1976 have embraced the Fees Must Fall movement. They see parallels between their struggle against being taught in Afrikaans and students asking that education not be made so unaffordable that it is only for the middle class and rich.

Qwabe, of the UJ src, says she, like many of her fellow students, was inspired by the spirit of 1976. Like those students they were driven to stand up and say enough is enough. “Like 1976, this is our movement. We the students, were facing challenges that required us to raise our voices.”

A surprise guest, Refiloe Nkele better known as Ref Wayne, livened up proceedings. He is the inventor of Africa’s first digital currency – PipCoin – and among the wealthiest young Africans.

He had a message for the students – no one will give you anything for free. South Africa’s young live with their hand out, waiting to be given. “I will not hire you. I will partner with your business and we will make this the country we know it can be. I want you to go into your community and find solutions to the problems that are holding you back. This is a spirit that is dying because we want everything for free.”

Stalking through the hall with microphone in hand he demanded that students fight for their education, not burn down their schools. “You want to fight? Fight your teacher when he is late. Fight your teachers if they do not know their subject. We are beneficiaries of a nation of fighters. Do not let their sacrifices be in vain.”

twohpf African digital currency pioneer Ref Wayne wants youth to create their own opportunities. (Image: Mathiba Molefe)