Uprising that shaped an entire generation by Zwelinzima Vavi’s - Workers assembly

TOMORROW we will commemorate June 16 1976 - the day that saw the start of the Soweto uprising. For almost three decades now, on this day we have remembered the struggle that shaped the generation "1" our leadership. This is now the tenth June 16 we celebrating under conditions of freedom.

On June 16, some 28 years ago, young people - most still in school uniforms -joined in a demonstration against the apartheid education system.

When the police met them with brutality and gunfire, they sparked an uprising that ultimately led to the demise of apartheid.

The students' struggle was always linked to the workers'. It was not a coincidence that the 1976 uprising came just three years after the Durban strike wave marked the re-emergence of militant and democratic unionism.

Tomorrow gives us an opportunity to remember the thousands who gave their lives so that we can now live in democracy. June 16 will always cull to mind the struggle for freedom. Ii reminds us that we have only ever won progress through solidarity, courage and mobilisation. Our victories have never been handed to us on a platter.

Government has also made tomorrow Youth Day, dedicated Id the young people. As we commemorate our past struggles, we also remember the serious challenges that me youth still face at home, at school and at work.

The main issues fur youth today are unemployment, unequal education, and the HIV-Aids pandemic. True, these problems affect everyone. But they have hit the youth particularly harshly.

In September 2002 the unemployment rate for youth under 30 was 61%, according to the Government's Labour-force Survey. These figures count only people who want paid work, not students. For people over 30 the unemployment rate was 29% - still very high, but only half as high as for the youth.

Joblessness was worst for African youth. Africans under 30 faced unemployment of 68% - over two thirds of all young Africans who wanted a paid job couldn't find one.

All too often, our children graduate from school, even from technikons and universities, and spend years looking for employment. They end up staying home with their parents when they should be starting families, pursuing careers and engaging more broadly with society.

We often hear that unemployment is high because our people lack skills.

True, apartheid denied many workers the education they need. But our youth are highly educated by world standards. In 2002, the average employed African under 30 years had about 9,5 years of education -the same as their unemployed counterparts.

If the problem were simply a lack of skills, then highly educated youth would all find jobs. In fact, even those with university degrees face unacceptably high unemployment In 2002, more than a third of Africans under 30, with a degree, were unemployed. In contrast, only 5% of young whites with degrees couldn't find a job.

It's true that most youth are inexperienced, even the highly educated. But all over the world, people who enter the labour force only have formal education. In most countries, however, employers are creating jobs. They are willing to provide the necessary on-the-job training. Why are those entry-level jobs simply not available in South Africa?

Of course, our education and skills development systems are by no means perfect. But they are not the main cause of unemployment. Improving education and training may help youth contribute more to economic growth and development. But it won't solve the unemployment crisis.

Another problem is the sharp inequalities that persist in education. Divisions remain shaped by the national oppression. But increasingly these divisions are taking a class dimension.

African schools still have far worse quality facilities. In 2000, 17% of schools had no toilets. 28% no running water, and 43% no electricity. The worst-off schools were mostly in the former homelands. While there has been an improvement since 1996, we still have a long way to go in ensuring-- education for all.

Many historically African secondary schools still don't have maths, science, computers or cultural studies. Finally, higher education remains disproportionately open to the privileged minority. In part, this reflects inequalities in secondary education. In part, it arises because our children must pay so much for a university degree.

White families are still far better off. They can afford R20 000 a year or more for education. But almost half of Cosatu members earn less than R2 500 a month. The cost of university education is prohibitive.

At secondary school, too, the fee system maintains inequalities. Most poor children cannot afford to attend the better schools. Legally, no child can be denied entry because they can't afford the fees. But more expensive schools often tell pupils who can't pay there just isn't space.

The demand for free, dynamic and compulsory education remains as relevant as in 1979 when Cosas was formed.

HIV and Aids are the third major challenge for the youth. We have won an important victory with the rollout of anti-retroviral treatment. People with HIV can live longer. But we must all still monitor implementation.

Every school must provide education on HIV and condoms. Young women must be able to refuse unsafe sex. That means we must all work to ensure their economic, social and political independence and rights. June 16 gives us an opportunity to remember the Soweto uprising and the struggle of the youth for liberation.

;To address these, we need to revive mass mobilisation. Many young people today never experienced our history of organisation and solidarity. Instead, they are confronted with the culture of individualism and consumerism pushed by the media imported from the North.

Cosatu must grapple with the problem that young workers are much less likely to belong to a union. Most join later, as bitter experience teaches the need for workers' unity.

As we celebrate this Youth Day let's not forget the oppressed youth of Palestine and elsewhere


References:
• Sowetan, 15 June 2004, p.16.

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