We must be proud of our past, and confident about the future

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President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the keynote address during National Youth Day at the Polokwane Cricket Club in Polokwane, Limpopo Province. President Ramaphosa is supported by Deputy President David Mabuza, Ministers Nathi Mthethwa, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha, National Youth Agency Executive Chairperson Sifiso Mtsweni and other Cabinet Ministers and members of the Limpopo Executive The month of June has been declared Youth Month and it is a period set aside to pay tribute to the youth of 1976 for their activism. It is also a time to reflect on the progress made and address the challenges identified in order to drive the youth development agenda in South Africa. 16/06/2019. Siyabulela Duda

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past” (Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)

On 16 June 2019 our country commemorated our 43rd anniversary of the 1976 Youth Uprising . Since that fateful day, the defiance to apartheid was re- awoken and our fight became, persistence and unbroken with waves of new generations joining the struggle until the dawn of democracy. Youth participated in all 4 pillars of struggle namely mass mobilisation , armed struggle , the underground and international solidarity.

The youth of 76 like the generations before them understood their generational mission, that ‘out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it’ (Fanon).  They developed the skills and expertise to fight the Apartheid government  and acted upon it with a clarity of purpose. The generations of Solomon Mahlangu, Peter Mokaba, Ronnie Mamoepa , Colleen Williams and Dipuo Peters continued with the struggle to end Apartheid  and build a developmental democracy that is united, non-racial and non-sexist.   

As we begin the journey of the next 25 years of our struggle the youth of today must ask the question, What is there generational mission ? To answer this question, they 1st need to understand the challenges and opportunities that we have been confronted with over the past decade ? Today our world is changing at a pace faster than ever before, the geo political, economic, environmental  and technological space have undergone tectonic shifts. We began the decade with the so called ‘’Arab Spring’’ that shook parts of north Africa and the Middle East.  Democratic euphoria swept across much of the developing south with peaceful transitions to democracy in countries such as Comoros, and Madagascar amongst others. We have had numerous examples of peaceful resolution to conflicts both on the continent and beyond. Equally as we near end of this decade we are witnessing revolutions and counter revolutions. Globally there has been an increase in extremism , terrorism, religious fundamentalism, populist right-wing nationalism, neo fascism, xenophobia and racism  in both the developed and developing world.  The era of coups, wars and super power interference in the sovereignty of nations as well as the rise of strong men and women has reared its ugly head again.

As I write there are several high and low intensity wars taking place across several continents including in the Middle East in Yemen , Syria and Iraq as well as in numerous countries in Africa. Wars are being fought both along traditional lines as well as the newer asymmetrical  warfare i.e. by proxy (such as in Syria ), cyber wars and robust trade wars between the traditional superpowers such as the US and Russia (multipolarity) as well the newer emerging super power China (tripolarity).   

As we near the end of this decade our triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment is increasing globally, continentally and within South Africa. The historical multi-lateral international rules-based order  is under threat. Unemployment is at 27.6% in South Africa  of which jobless youth accounts for 63.4% thereof (StatsSA, 2019).  Ordinarily, South Africa was supposed to harvest the benefits from the continental youth bulge, in the context of a thriving African economy. However, the World Bank (2011) indicated that intra-continental trade in Africa remains uninspiring at 11%, whilst between South Africa and the rest of the continent it is at approximately 22%, with the balance of trade being mainly with the rest of the developed world. This is a complete anti-thesis of a development trajectory, which should underpin the economic outlook of Africa’s 54 states.

What is to be done ? 

The best way to preserve the legacy of the class of 76 is for our  youth to gain the skills and expertise to address all these afor-mentioned challenges in our country , region , continent and globally . Our youth must be equipped to grow and create a competitive and inclusive economy with shared prosperity. Youth must prepare themselves for the new world of work with subjects such as coding being  a compulsory 3rd subject  taught at primary school level.  As we rebuild Africa we will require a nation of engineers, soft ware programmers, builders, architects,  quantity surveyors, mechanics,  plumbers, electricians, doctors and entrepreneurs to mention but few. 

Our youth must become ‘’glocal’’ (global and local) citizens i.e. the  ability to work both locally and abroad whilst remaining committed to our national democratic agenda . Equally our youth require not only the hard-technical skills, they must develop and understanding of and a commitment to becoming patriots, international solidarity activists, cadres and ambassadors for the developing world . South Africa remains a shining example for international solidarity and peaceful transitions of divided nations and our youth must continue with this legacy.

Our youth must grasp the opportunities of continuous further education and training made available through policies such as the national student financial aid scheme to attend tertiary institutions. To undermine joblessness, implies that Learning should become a lifelong experience. Youth must also grasp the opportunities made available through Department of International Relations and Cooperation, to further their studies by obtaining scholarships to study abroad, participate in international internships and exchange programmes. 

This is a decisive intervention and we must toil tirelessly to ensure that we expose 20,000 South African young people to the international arena of solidarity, in which the acquisition of high skills will be possible, and a heightened ‘consciousness, as a product of development’ (Engels).  President Ramaphosa has been instructive that ‘too many of our people do not work, especially the youth’ (2019); that we must maximize the value of the new, heightened technological innovations.   


Alvin Botes is an NEC member of the ANC and the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation.