|Youth Day celebrations drew over 67 000 jubilant people who commemorated the heroes of 16 June 1976 with a range of initiatives.|
Twelve-year-old Hector Pieterson, and teenagers Mbuyisa Makhubo and Tsietsi Mashinini would be in their 40s this year, most certainly fathers and probably grandfathers.
But the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of 16 June on Youth Day last week was not about fathers and grandfathers but about youngsters – the young heroes of 1976 and the youth of today. The theme of the day, "Age of hope: youth participation in development", drove home that message.
The day had all the trappings of a respectful event: the unveiling of a memorial artwork, a symbolic walk along part of the 1976 route, the army band and precision marching by the national ceremonial guard, a helicopter display, a 21-gun salute, and of course, the presence of President Thabo Mbeki.
The day started early on a crisp morning at the Morris Isaacson High School in Jabavu, Soweto. Provincial MEC for public works and transportation, Ignatius Jacobs, and Johannesburg's executive mayor Amos Masondo unveiled a 2m by 3m wall, with a mural of emotive scenes depicting the events of 30 years ago, painted by Johannes Phokela. The artwork is one of 10 in Johannesburg commissioned by The Sunday Times to celebrate their centenary.
Jacobs said: "We are walking in the footprints of giants." He spoke of their selfless sacrifice, dedication and tenacity, qualities he encouraged today's youth to develop. "To all young people present, you must dream. Viva, young people of South Africa."
Describing 16 June as an "important milestone" and a "watershed", Masondo shouted Amandla, to which the crowd eagerly responded: Awethu.
He referred to a project to pave the route that the learners of 1976 took, on their march to the Orlando Stadium in Orlando East. Morris Isaacson High School Mputhi Street schoolyard has been paved in red bricks to symbolise the bloodshed of that year. Eventually, all the routes taken by students will be paved.
The artwork is the focal point of a new park opposite the school, named the June 16 Memorial Acre, constructed in memory of the youngsters who died throughout the country during the uprising.
Then Mbeki and his entourage arrived, and a five-kilometre march to the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West began. Led by marshals and flanked by Johannesburg Roads Agency workers in bright orange overalls, several hundred people took to the road.
The president linked arms with the mayor and, joined the crowd, singing resistance songs. Photographs from 30 years ago showed teenage marchers smiling and cheering, not unlike the crowd on Friday.
Some residents were caught off guard and came to their stoeps or front gates dressed in their pyjamas and dressing gowns when they realised the president was among the crowd.
Dressed casually in an open-neck golf shirt and blazer, the president was smiling and clearly enjoying himself. In addition to the mayor, who sang heartily and marched purposefully, there were several cabinet ministers among the crowd.
Halfway through the march, at Mofolo Bridge, the marchers stopped and a moment of silence was observed. It was here in 1976 that Mashinini, the student leader of the South African Students' Movement at Morris Isaacson High School, stopped and spoke to his fellow students, urging them to remain calm if they confronted the police.
The march ended at the Hector Pieterson Memorial where wreaths were laid by the president, the minister in the presidency Essop Pahad, Gauteng premier Mbhazima, Masondo, National Youth Commission chairperson Jabu Mbalula and representatives of the June 16 Foundation.
Sam Nzima, the photographer of the iconic 16 June photograph, was pounced on by the press, who photographed him at the memorial together with Hector's mother, Dorothy Molefe.
At the FNB Stadium
The day's proceedings then moved to the FNB Stadium in Nasrec, where by midday there were around 67 000 people packed into the stands. The crowds sang and danced to live music, vuvuzelas blasting across the field, their jubilation never letting up.
A khaki-clad police band marched to booming brass sounds, followed by the immaculate, bayonetted national ceremonial guard in smart, green uniforms. When Mbeki entered the stadium, the crowd erupted. Thousands stood while the band played Nkosi Sikeleli.
Three helicopters flew overhead, dangling national flags. One returned and did a stomach-churning demonstration of manoeuvres in the sky, to great cheers from the crowd.
And just when you thought the cheers couldn't get any louder, the president did a walkabout around the perimeter of the field, and as he passed each section of the stands, people stood and waved vigorously, in response to his demonstrative double wave.
The entourage moved to the stage and everyone took their seats.
Bravery and determination
Shilowa took to the podium and after several Amandlas, praised the youth of 1976: "Their bravery, determination and level of organisation astonished even their parents and brought to the world's attention the true nature of apartheid."
He said that the only means available to them then was "their ability to organise themselves in a peaceful protest", but this was met by the violent actions of the police. "While the brute force of the apartheid police quelled the immediate protests, the Soweto uprising represented the beginning of the end for apartheid, unleashing a chain of events that would ultimately lead to its demise."
"Today many of the young people whose brave resistance helped bring apartheid to its knees are playing leading roles in our communities, in government, in our workplaces and all spheres of society."
Mbeki took the podium, greeting the crowds with "Hola, hola, youth day, hola." He went on: "This day, National Youth Day, is a moment of thanksgiving dedicated to the young people of our country for the contribution they made to free South Africa from the tyranny of apartheid."
He paid tribute to them for helping create a democratic South Africa. "We remember the youth of 1976 because they have left us a lesson that it is possible for young people to stand up and confront the challenges facing them. We remember them because they have left a legacy of bravery and determination in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable difficulties."
He talked of the long battle still ahead in education, youth unemployment and poverty.
He referred to the National Youth Development Policy Framework, and the creation of 100 new Youth Advisory Centres across the country; the enrolment of 10 000 young people in the National Youth Service; and the enrolment of 5 000 young volunteers to act as mentors to vulnerable children.
The president also urged municipalities to provide libraries and sports fields for youngsters, at the same time encouraging schools to install IT facilities to benefit learners. Schools should also encourage extramural activities like debating and sport.
He appealed to business and NGOs to contribute to young people's upliftment through training projects, mentoring programmes, extra lessons, poetry groups or participation in sports clubs.
"Let us, together, help the young people of our country to defeat the idleness, boredom and absence of opportunities that lead to anti-social activities, and lives that amount to a future of hopelessness. On this historic day, let each one of us say that we have a duty to do something to help realise the dreams of our youth!"
He urged the youth to draw inspiration from the efforts and dedication of the participants of the Comrades Marathon, a 90km endurance run held on 16 June every year.
"May the courage and vision displayed by our youth, 30 years ago on 16 June 1976, serve to inspire and motivate all of us as we strive to bring happiness to our youth and people during this, our age of hope. Long live the memory of the 16 June martyrs!".
Hector Pieterson – two months off his 13th birthday when he died - would have been 42 on 16 June 2006. Mbuyisa Makhubo and Tsietsi Mashinini would have both been 49.