The urgent need behind the Soweto Uprisings was the notion that a better future was inevitable. Young people across the country refused to be taught in Afrikaans. From there, a plan of action started to refute this. June 16 was definitely a turning point born out of a series of deliberate steps. As a result, the culminating protests were driven by small actions that sought to realise that future. In 2016 therefore, we must ask ourselves what does this spirit of ’76 look like in our time? What does our inevitable future look like?
In a country where the majority of the population are below the age of 35, one can’t help but wonder what are we doing with this potential? Youthfulness should be associated with energy and creativity. The youth voice should be prominent in media and shaping narratives around what it means to live in a free and democratic South Africa. However, this is not the case. As we’ve seen in the recent youth stats report released by StatsSA last month. The current situation for many young people looks grim. Primarily because many young people are still shackled by challenges inherited from our oppressive past. Many are paralysed into non-action because of the lack of transformation and access to opportunities or resources that could provide a much-needed push. But we do have options. We can choose to not be associated with narratives that associate being young with words like “lost” and “apathetic”. As Sizwe Maphindani, a member of the ACTIVATE! network, puts it, “We have no other alternative remaining for us as (black) youth in South Africa except activism.”
Imagine then if there was support for those young South Africans who are waking up every day to tackle these pressing challenges that are standing in the way towards this inevitable future. These young people aren’t unicorns. They do exist. For example, a network like ACTIVATE! Change Drivers has managed to connect more than 2000 youth from all corners of South Africa who are committed to the cause of a better South Africa. These young people are a new breed of leaders who are fearlessly saying, ‘our future is now’. Members of this network, Activators as they call themselves, manage to push for change through being connected with each other and growing their voice. The voices we should be hearing are of those young people who convened meetings in Vuwani with community leaders to find alternative learning spaces in that community when schools were being burnt. It is the young people who convened on Robben Island recently to interrogate the state of our democracy, to reflect on what they are doing in their communities to address the many challenges they see. It is that young man in Orange Farm, instead of joining protests against the municipality, he pointed to the Integrated Development Plan that had made allocation for the development of road infrastructure and changed the course of that conversation. This voice is the group of youth who will convene at the Jabavu Centre in Soweto to share their work and contribution towards keeping themselves and their government accountable.
“Each Activator has committed to a journey of service to the public good, working from within their own homes, communities and beyond. Many Activators run their own initiatives, many volunteer in support of others, and there are those who come from very harsh living conditions yet are dedicated to finding solutions to their community’s challenges. In a network whose membership currently stands at 2000, poised to grow beyond 5000, the collective impact is immeasurable. The knock-on impact of Activators engaging around issues, sharing their positivity, inspiring others to follow is profound. The innovative spirit that flows through the network inspiring young people to look at the old ways of doing things and to come up with new solutions to the issues is tangible.” CEO of ACTIVATE! Chris Meintjes explains the spirit of collective leadership that lies in this group of young South Africans.
At the heart of this push for change driven by youth, there is a magic that happens when young people from different backgrounds share a space and find ways of working together towards a common goal of transformation. There should be a drive amongst youth to build bridges of opportunity. We should be deliberate about the small actions that continue to build an alternative future. As Injairu Kulundu puts it, “we build an alternative future in small actions. We build it piece by piece. Until the recognition of that alternative future become unavoidable, until that future becomes inevitable”
The achievement of this inevitable future doesn’t mean that as young people we must sit and wait for its ‘coming’. We have a responsibility to stand up now and seek the change that we want to see. “What the 1976 Uprisings should teach us as the current generation of youth is that we must assume leadership in addressing challenges facing us. Solutions to some of the most pressing challenges currently facing young people in South Africa essentially lie with the youth of this country.”, says Rammolotsi Sothoane an International Relations Graduate from the University of the Free State and a member of the ACTIVATE! network.