Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising, with President Jacob Zuma using his address at the official national commemoration at Orlando Stadium in Soweto to appeal to the youth to prioritise their education.
“Education remains the apex priority of government. We urge the youth to make education their apex priority too‚” Zuma said.
He appealed for an end to the destruction of education infrastructure, part of a violent trend in service delivery protests that was “threatening to destroy the social fabric of our society”.
“Not a single school was burned in 1976 during the student uprising,” he said.
Thousands of scholars were bused in from Gauteng and neighbouring provinces for the event at Orlando Stadium, which had been the destination of a march in 1976 by pupils protesting against tuition in Afrikaans.
Political parties and state officials were out in force at numerous events across the country. With local government elections two months away, parties also used the occasion to canvas for votes.
In its commemoration message the ANC said political freedom had been won, but the struggle for economic emancipation continued.
“We call on the country’s youth to work with the ANC to mobilise the nation around a common vision of the kind of society we seek to attain, acting in partnership with each other and with each sector, for the realisation of the common good,” the ANC said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane used his address at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West‚ Soweto, to draw parallels between the ANC government and the apartheid government that was in power in 1976.
The ANC was now the culpable party for sabotaging educational outcomes, Maimane said.
“They have become the protector of the status quo (and) the denier of opportunity.
“The education his (Zuma’s) government provides to millions of black children is no better than the Bantu Education of 40 years ago. In fact‚ many believe it is worse.”
Creating opportunities for the youth of today by fixing education was the best way to pay tribute to the legacy of the students who lost their lives in the Soweto uprising‚ Maimane said.
“We owe it to the class of ’76‚ and we owe it to our children‚” the opposition leader said.
Maimane charged that the ANC government had become the very thing the students had risen up against 40 years ago.
The EFF held a commemoration event in Secunda, Mpumalanga, where party leader Julius Malema said SA would be a boring country without white people.
Malema said his party was not fighting against white people.
“We are not fighting against them‚ we are not fighting for them either. We are fighting for black people. Anyone who fights for white people is fighting for white people’s privilege.”
Malema said his party was fighting for poor people to attain equal rights to economic freedom with their white counterparts.
He also called on community members not to burn buildings during protests.
“Don’t burn the clinics because once the ANC government is out of office‚ we are going to need that clinic so that we can extend working hours and make it serve you‚” Malema said.
Student demands for more equitable and affordable access to education have come to the fore in the past two years with the emergence of the #FeesMustFall protests. Demonstrations at campuses across the country have led to an estimated R460m of damage to property at 17 universities.
During protests over municipal demarcation in Vuwani, Limpopo, more than 20 schools have been torched or vandalised, putting 42,000 pupils at risk of having to repeat their current grades.
The National Education Collaboration Trust used its Youth Day message to appeal for participation in recovery efforts at the schools. A crowd-funding campaign for the rebuilding of schools in Vuwani had raised R2.2m so far, the trust said.