Let’s honour the Class of ’76 through our actions, not our words

The following remarks were delivered by the DA Leader on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto youth uprising, at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West, Soweto.

My fellow South Africans,

Today, forty years ago, hundreds of young South Africans lost their lives, and thousands more risked theirs, standing up to an unjust government.

The actions of these students on the morning of June 16, 1976 changed the course of our history.

Their 20,000-strong protest, along with the brutal response of the Apartheid government, was the catalyst for increased resistance to white minority rule. After June 1976, there was no turning back.

Fourteen violent years later, Apartheid was gone and the process to rebuild this country could begin.

Today we are here to celebrate the role of the youth in our country’s liberation struggle. But what good is celebrating the youth of yesterday when you deny the youth of today their future?

Because that is what our government is doing. They are saying: “We are grateful for the sacrifice of young South Africans back then, but there is nothing we can do for them today.”

Year after year, our government puts on a show to celebrate the legacy of June 16.

Year after year, our government talks about honouring the students who paid with their lives back in 1976.

Year after year, we must listen to them say: “The best way to celebrate the fallen youth of ’76 is to secure a future for the youth of today”. And then they go out and do the exact opposite.

With each passing year, their hypocrisy just grows bigger as they oversee the systematic destruction of an entire generation’s hope for a better future.

This ANC government has become the very thing the students were rising against 40 years ago. They have become the protector of the status quo. They have become the denier of opportunity.

They have sabotaged this generation that we still naively call “born frees”.

Our children have not merely been “let down” by our government. This is not a passive failure. This is not a government that’s trying hard, but falling short.

No, this is a government that has actively chosen its own interests over the interests of our children.

This is a government that was meant to deliver the dream of 1994 to millions of young South Africans, but instead got sucked into the battle for power and money.

Corrupt governments cannot deliver to the people. Corrupt governments can only think of themselves.

The millions of people who fall victim to poverty and unemployment as a result of corrupt governments are merely a statistic to them. Collateral damage.

The sheer number of young South Africans who cannot find work today is staggering. We say these numbers so often that we run the risk of becoming oblivious to them.

Don’t ever let this happen. Don’t ever become used to the big numbers.

Don’t ever fall into the trap of accepting our government’s failure as “just one of those things”.

Don’t ever lose sight of just how critical the state of youth unemployment in South Africa has become.

And don’t ever let anyone tell you that this situation has been exaggerated – that the opposition or the media are making too much of it.

If anything, we are not making enough of it. Because if this generation fails, our country will fail.

Right now, one in three South Africans cannot find work.

When you only look at young South Africans – those under the age of 35 – this goes up to one in two South Africans. Fifty percent.

There are now 8.9 million unemployed South Africans, and this number grows every month. That’s more than all the people of Johannesburg and all the people of Cape Town combined.

Two-thirds of them fall into this “youth” category. Which means that almost 6 million young people cannot enter the job market, cannot participate in our economy and cannot start to build a life for themselves.

Our youth unemployment rate is more than four times higher than the global average.

This is not merely a challenge. It’s not just an area that needs improved performance. Don’t let those who got us here downplay this crisis.

We need to start calling it what it is: Youth unemployment is the single biggest threat to our country’s future.

If we don’t kick-start our failing economy right now so that we can start creating work opportunities for these millions of young South Africans, our democracy will come apart.

It will not be able to withstand the anger, the frustration and the resentment of millions of citizens abandoned by their government.

Fellow South Africans,

Today we honour those who took the streets of Soweto 40 years ago, many of whom lost their lives that day. We remember their names and we remember their sacrifice.

But it is crucial that we also remember what it was they were standing against.

Their protest was primarily against Afrikaans as language of instruction, but in truth it was about far more than that.

These children took to the streets to claim their own future.

They stood up and said: we will not accept an inferior education. We will not accept the dead-end that awaits us if we carry on down this path.

Of all the wrongs of Apartheid, its greatest sin was surely to deny black children a proper education.

Bantu Education was a deliberate plan to suppress a new generation of black South Africans. To keep them in their place.

With the fall of Apartheid and the birth of our democracy, this was meant to be the first thing that changed.

We were supposed to start building a new society by beginning with the youth. By ensuring that no child in South Africa would ever have to endure the insult that was Bantu Education again.

But 22 years into this democratic project, our government has let these children down.

Most of our schools are dysfunctional today. Outside of the well-funded, well-staffed schools in our city suburbs, our basic education ranks amongst the worst in the world.

Millions of children sit in crowded classrooms every day in front of teachers who are both unwilling and unable to teach them the basics of their curriculum.

Most of these teachers belong to a union that has taken over our basic education and now runs it like a crime syndicate.

Jobs are exchanged for cash, teachers refuse to be performance-tested, and schools are shut down for weeks, even months, as ongoing strikes make teaching impossible.

And then we are expected to share the Education Ministry’s shock when the matric results implode.

The reality for most children in our failed education system is bleak

Only half of those who start Grade 1 will one day sit down to write matric. And almost a third of those who do write, won’t pass.

These children will then step out of this failed education system and into a broken economy where two-thirds of them won’t be able to find a job.

And this is the true legacy of Jacob Zuma’s ANC.

Not Nkandla. Not the Guptas. Not the billions pocketed from the Arms Deal, the Nuclear Deal and whatever other deal they have lined up.

The true legacy of Jacob Zuma’s ANC will be their failure to provide this generation with an education they can use.

I’m sure our president is out there right now speaking about what 1976 means, and how we must never forget. But he’s forgotten a long time ago.

The education his 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.

And he has no intention of making it any better. He doesn’t think he needs to. He thinks the ANC is doing enough to carry on ruling for ever. But he’s wrong.

Don’t let him tell you this ANC government has a plan for the youth.

Don’t let him tell you this ANC government cares about young black lives.

Don’t let him use the class of ’76 as his “good story”.

Tell him you can see right through these lies and broken promises.

And the best way to tell him is by replacing his failed government with one that will look after our country’s biggest asset: its youth.

Where the DA governs, youth opportunities and education sit right at the top of all our priorities.

The Western Cape has the lowest unemployment rate in South Africa.

In this financial year alone, the province spent over R9 billion on youth-related projects that range from apprenticeships and bursaries to school holiday programmes and child development centres.

It is also the only province where the matric pass rate increased last year.

In fact, since the DA took over in the Western Cape in 2009, the matric pass rate in the province’s poorest schools increased from 57% to 73%.

Children growing up under a DA government are better off than those who grow up under the ANC.

Fixing education and creating opportunities for the youth of today is the best way to pay tribute to the legacy of the students who lost their lives in the Soweto uprising.

We owe it to the Class of ’76, and we owe it to our children.

Thank you.