Monday, June 16, 2008

South African Youth Day 2008: In Defence of Our Revolution

Youth Day 2008

In defence of our revolution

The memory of the events that came to pass that fateful day on 16 June 1976 provided the momentum for the liberation struggle, and ultimately our national liberation. It is a painful reminder of what should never again befall our young nation. Indeed, June 16 was a catalyst for the intensified struggle that characterised South Africa's political landscape and set the scene for our liberation. The blood that spilled and flowed in the gutters of our townships nourished the tree that bore the fruits of liberation. Ours is a generation whose emancipation is intrinsically linked to the struggles of yesteryear, which were embodied by the 1976 generation.

Our march to a truly emancipated society where its youth are at the centre of its growth and development require of us all to make a concerted effort in building a society that is truly responsive to the needs of the youth alongside those of the poorest of the poor. In advancing the tasks of the current phase of the national democratic revolution, we must be mindful of the challenges that still loom large, and we must draw resolve and political will to bring to reality that which the 1976 generation fought for.

As we pledge allegiance to our democracy and put in place the critical building blocks towards the nation-state envisaged in the Freedom Charter, we must jealously defend the gains of our revolution and remain vigilant in the face of intense antagonism. It must never elude us that forces of counter-revolution remain active and are waiting in the wings for an opportune moment to pounce. It is our task to obliterate these forces and ensure that our democracy is not under threat from any quarter.

In paying homage to these gallant revolutionaries who cleared the path for us, we must place emphasis on those things that mattered the most in their struggle.

Education must never again be used as a political weapon to oppress our people. Our struggle was premised on the appreciation that education is a tool of freedom which must be used to advance our nation and secure the future of its youth. In transforming our education system to produce the calibre of youth that is poised to lead our nation and breathe life into the ideals of the generations that came before us, we must be at the forefront of such transformation.

We must equally ensure that our education system is responsive to the needs of our country and the economy. It must produce new-age revolutionaries who understand the attendant obligations of a patriotic cadre while simultaneously producing intellectuals, artisans, economists and other professionals whose collective contribution will place South Africa on a higher economic growth trajectory. The presence of the ANC Youth League in institutions of higher learning alongside our traditional ally in the student movement, the South African Students Congress (SASCO), is a demonstration of our seriousness in ensuring that the cadreship that emerges out of these institutions is not only empowered in terms of academic knowledge, but is schooled in the timeless traditions of our revolutionary movement poised to assume leadership.

Free and compulsory education

The ANC at its 52nd National Conference in Polokwane passed far-reaching resolutions on education that resonate with the ideals embodied in the Freedom Charter and which bring the notion of free and compulsory education closer to reality. As the ANC Youth League, we remain firm in our pursuit of the realisation of free and compulsory education and will continue to impress upon the ANC the urgency of expediting the implementation of the Polokwane resolution.

After the 2009 general elections, we will seriously lobby the Zuma administration to amend the education laws such that it becomes a criminal offence for any young person of school-going age not to to attend school. They should be arrested, failing which their parents must face the might of the law.

We similarly implore our teachers and learners to give practical expression to the culture of teaching and learning with the appreciation that this is precisely what the 1976 generation fought for when they denounced Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Theirs was not simply about language, but about access to quality education in a language that will enable them to achieve their goals. It is similarly for that very reason that we strongly support calls for mother-tongue based learning, as we believe this will go a long way in enhancing the quality of our education and imparting of knowledge to learners. This must serve as a clarion call to progressive forces like the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) for them to recommit themselves and their members to advancing this culture of learning and teaching. We similarly call on parents to resume their place and take a keen interest in the education of their children. We have been disappointed by reports that a large number of parents do not take interest in their children's education and do not participate in structures that are established to chart their future.

Young people must lead the struggle for their emancipation and must never be spectators in the crafting of their future. It is on this basis that we have always proclaimed that there can never be decisions taken about us without us. Youth development must therefore not be seen as an event, but rather a process which must culminate in qualitative empowerment of the youth. Massification of youth development and its integration into the mainstream socio-economic and socio-political life of our nation must become the norm rather than an exception. Similarly, economic interventions like Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment and the government's preferential procurement programme must assume a particular bias towards the youth. Investing in the youth is investing in the future.

Socio-economic challenges such as high unemployment, escalating fuel and food prices, high interest rates alongside the HIV/AIDS pandemic continue to hit the youth the hardest. Our collective wisdom must be brought to bear to alleviate the hardships that young people get exposed to as a result of these developments. Young people, including young professionals must be at the forefront of seeking innovative solutions to these challenges. We must take heart in the knowledge that we have sufficient intellectual capital in our midst to arrive at sustainable solutions that will protect the future of our nation, and we must therefore not lose hope. The older generation is looking at us to bring to the table fresh and innovative ideas to tackle these old challenges in a sustainable way and stabilise the cost of living.

The ever-escalating food prices must spur us into action and return to the basics. Young people must lead the campaign to ensure food security by, among others, growing their own food, whether at home or at school or in the communities they live in. The unmitigated rise in interest rates continues to hurt young people and stunt their progression in the economic landscape. The Reserve Bank must find a permanent solution in striking the balance between interest rates and fighting poverty. It is a living reality that interest rates not only impact on those on the upper end of the economic spectrum, but hits even harder those at the bottom of the food chain. The combined effect of high food prices, high fuel prices and high interest rates makes a mockery of our efforts to eradicate poverty and renders basic food inaccessible to the poorest of the poor.

Jobs for youth

The ANCYL will intensify its campaign on Jobs For Youth as one of the interventions that must make a telling difference in the emancipation of our youth.

In giving practical expression to our constitutional value that says, "South Africa belongs to all who live in it," we implore the minister of labour to urgently and seriously look at conditions of service foreign nationals are forced to serve under, particularly in elementary jobs in the security and hospitality industries. This practice is deplorable and degrading, and employers who continue to make use of foreign workers because they believe they can get cheap labour and sidestep the country's laws must be prosecuted without mercy. The culture being peddled by big business that suggests that foreign nationals working in South Africa, particularly in elementary jobs, have no rights is an abomination that must be eradicated. The inspectorate of the labour department seems to have collapsed and appears impotent against the tide of rampant violations of the labour laws in our country, and they are no longer visible on the shop floor. We must all make a concerted effort to revive this important unit to meaningfully protect our people against exploitation by private capital.

The second leg of the ANC Youth League's 23rd National Congress adjourned at Mangaung will take place from 27 to 30 June 2008. We saw it befitting that the conclusion of this Congress should co-incide with Youth Month, when we celebrate and remember those whose bravery asserted the role of the youth as champions of their own liberation and emancipation. As young revolutionaries, our mandate is to ensure that we jealously protect the fruits borne of the tree nourished by the blood of those who laid down their lives so we could be free. The conduct that we experienced in Mangaung must never again be allowed to rear its ugly head in our congresses, whether at branch, regional, provincial or national level. We must uphold the highest standards of integrity. If we do not value organisational discipline, we are not living up to the spirit of the 1944 and 1976 generations and many others whose lives were dedicated to the achievement of our freedom. We are not deserving of their legacy and should therefore be ashamed to claim to represent their aspirations. We dare not rubbish their legacy and we dare not compromise the ideals for which they lived and died. If we are to proclaim ourselves as rightful heirs to the legacy of the giants of our youth movement like Anton Lembede, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, we must accord them their rightful honour and respect through conduct that resonates with the values they espoused. It is our ability to rise to this challenge that we will succeed in advancing the youth developmental agenda.

It is only through sustained and effective interventions that add tangible value to youth development and empowerment that we can proclaim to have honoured the legacy of the 1976 generation. Their struggles were never in vain and we must not be found wanting in championing the cause of young people.

Thirty-two years on, the legacy of the brave heroes and heroines who took to the streets and paid with their lives so we could be free truly lives on, and continues to inspire our forward momentum as a nation. We must rededicate ourselves to the ideals that inspired their struggle and become champions in the creation of a society that gives practical expression to their ideals and aspirations.

The primary task of young revolutionaries within our ranks is to defend the gains of our revolution. An integral part of that is the defence of the ANC and its leadership against forces of counter-revolution, who will stop at nothing to project Africans as lazy, corrupt and incapable of exercising leadership.

We have therefore resolved that we will continue to defend the President of the ANC against the brutality of these forces. We will assemble a team of legal experts to explore ways and means to challenge the injustice that he has been exposed to and force the hand of the state to withdraw these ridiculous charges. We will petition the courts and demand that the continued harassment of the ANC President not only impugns his dignity but grossly undermines his human rights, and that the case against him has been so badly tainted such that prospects of a free and fair trial are non-existent and therefore they must dismiss these charges. Our patience has been tested to the limit, and we will do everything in our power, within the ambit of the law, to send our message in the strongest possible manner.

** Julius Malema is President of the ANC Youth League.

Youth Day 2008

A new mission for today's youth

On Monday 16 June, it shall be exactly 32 years since the 1976 Uprising. This day, it is agreed by all our people, was more than just an event, but was an heroic feat that turned the historical course of events in our country and ushered in a new era of struggle. As a result of that uprising, the eighties were to be a different period and the vulnerability of the apartheid regime was exposed and its inevitable defeat ceased to be inconceivable.

It is correct that our country should every year commemorate that uprising and pay tribute to the young patriots who on that day committed a feat way above their shoulders, as well as millions of others that followed in their footsteps in the years that were to follow. Because of their magnificent bravura, they laid a solid foundation for the youth of the eighties to raise the level of the struggle even higher and shed all fear for the regime and its forces of repression. Even when the regime unleashed its naked brutality, it had in their eyes and hearts lost its initial invincibility.

Time and again, the demands of the struggle would place upon the youth unprecedented responsibilities and called on them to commit heroic feats of struggle that would help propel the struggle forward and resolve the most urgent and acute problems of the people. During this entire period of the struggle, both before and after 1976, the youth acted with the knowledge and conviction that their struggle was part of a people's war against racial tyranny and their interests as young people were integral and similar to those of the people as a whole.

They knew that only victory over apartheid would resolve even their most fundamental yearning for a better and quality education and empowerment. The youth became the dynamising force of the struggle and its sharp end. Their patriotism reached new levels when they were engaged in the process, together with their people, to resolve the most intractable problems created by the existence of the system of racial capitalism.

Over time, they understood that the liberation of Africa's people constituted a single process and that consequently our struggle was one with that for Africa's independence from colonial bondage. Thus were we able to recognise our struggle's inner unity with the continent-wide African revolution, as well as with the anti-colonial and progressive struggles throughout the world and to regard our pursuit of the African Renaissance as inseparable from that of our national democracy.

Through our struggle we were able to develop a common identity, solidarity and patriotism with Africa. It was for this reason that Africa as a whole was prepared to bear the brunt of apartheid and support our struggle at an immense cost to her economic and political stability.

The youth of 1976 discovered their mission on 16 June. As they embarked on that fateful march that day, they had no knowledge of the sheer magnitude of their actions, both domestically and internationally. They did not know they held the destiny of their country in their hands, and that they were about to write their own history and etch the name of their generation permanently into the archives of our nation's history.

When therefore we commemorate this momentous occasion, we are dared once more to pose the question: what does it mean to be young in the South Africa and Africa of today? What must the youth of today do both to emulate the heroism of the past as well as to raise the level of the struggle in view of the challenges of this moment?

When we attempt to define what those events meant then, and what they mean or should mean now, we must not commit the often repeated error subtly to communicate the message to today's youth that they are nothing compared to those of yesteryear; that they do not measure up to them. The story is told that the youth of the past committed acts of heroism up to which the present generations of youth are failing to live.

New mission for youth

It is simply unfair and simplistic to accuse today's youth of not being like the youth of the past, when the social conditions and political climate that shaped and informed the thinking and action of those youth just do not exist today. It would be equally absurd to accuse the youth of the past of having lacked the sophistication and complexity of today's youth. The struggles fought and the victories scored in the past must continue to be conveyed from generation to generation, but the lesson of those struggles must be clear that each generation must discover its own mission and fulfil it. Asking today's youth to become captives of the past, no matter how glorious the past was, will inhibit their search for their own mission and make its discovery nigh impossible.

Out of the seeming slumber of the present, a new uprising must and will happen. The lesson of 1976 is that simply because it seems calm, it does not mean there is no storm gathering force so that when it strikes, the wool of self-delusion will be wiped away.

Today's youth must be inspired to commit their own heroic feats of struggle and write their own epic tales. The watersheds of our struggle must not become the pathways into the past, but to the future. They must inspire the present and future generations successfully to summit the vicious mountains of their own time. Heroes and heroines do not simply belong to the past; but the difficult challenges of today will breed new heroes and heroines.

We cannot underscore enough the point that South Africa today faces enormous challenges that require comprehensive and targeted responses if we must reverse inequality, poverty and underdevelopment.

This is even more difficult under the current conditions of globalisation which reinforce the current global power relations and patterns of inequality and underdevelopment.

The result is that the rich get richer; the poor get poorer. At the same time, both within countries and at a global sphere, there is a tendency towards increasing depoliticising as witnessed by the youth's increasing loss of interest and disengagement in politics and political processes such as democratic elections and political institutions. There is declining political and social consciousness, as well as declining solidarity with the poor, especially amongst the middle class youth. Many among our youth are failing to define their role in the South Africa and Africa of today.

This sounds like a paradox at a time when we say that we demand more democracy and participation in decision making; yet more and more of us are abandoning the political sphere which brought us the freedoms we enjoy. It is important that we should continue to regard the people as their own liberators, the permanent midwives and architects of their own freedom and democracy. We must thus continue to seek to empower them to represent their own interests through their political parties, mass struggles and social activism. We must therefore remain committed to the task of the mobilisation of the youth and people to struggle for their own upliftment and for the consolidation of democracy through active participation.

Sustain mobilisation

We must sustain the mobilisation and civic consciousness of the youth so that they both forever remember the past of tyranny and looking into the future, they always bear in mind that the future being built today is about them and must be what they want it to be. This requires that they participate in elections and other important civic matters so that they themselves craft that future.

It is common though that as democracy becomes entrenched, people tend to think that their lives will go on without politics and government and begin to care less about what types of governments they have and what policies they are pursuing. They simply get on with their lives and lose interest in politics and democracy.

This has become a discernible feature of this period of globalisation. In this way, though, we fail to harness this process of globalisation to serve the interests of the majority of the people. Modern information and communication technology has created a situation in terms of which the youth are most likely to obtain information and formulate opinions without relying on traditional means.

However, even when transparency and accountability are a norm, more and more youth are found ignorant of what is happening in their society. We must thus be concerned at the tendency towards shrinking politics, indifference towards democracy and the diminishing participation of the youth and the people in general in elections to choose their governments. In South Africa, we are even interested that development itself should be people-centred and people-led so that the people themselves determine their own destiny.

The aim of the democratic process, which includes participation, is thus negated by this diminishing role of civil society which leaves participation to a minority while the people simply become mere voting fodder remembered only when election time comes.

Pride in being African

The democratic process is a negation of social exclusion and marginalisation. It is about inclusion, poverty eradication and development. Accordingly, new and creative ways must always be found to re-interest the youth in politics and political participation, to ensure that we re-ignite their passion for their nation and continent Africa and re-build their patriotism.

This is more relevant in the South Africa of today which must take into consideration the impact of international migration and the need therefore consistently to define and re-define relations between various groups within our nation-state. International migration poses a direct challenge to our understanding of how we define ourselves as a nation, both in relations to one another as well as in relation to Africa as our mother continent. South Africa is regarded as one of the countries with the largest inflows of regular and irregular immigrants.

Recent scenes of xenophobic attacks have tested our claim of being Africans and how we define ourselves in relations to other Africans as people. Given that international migration is a growing phenomenon globally, we can no longer avoid engaging with this challenge in order to continue to expand our perspectives and combat xenophobia which has phenomenally damaged our relations with fellow Africans in our country and on our continent.

Whereas there could have been other socio-economic factors that could have contributed to the recent incidents, we must re-build the pride of the South African youth in being African as well as their knowledge and understanding of, and passion for and solidarity with, Africa. This cannot happen only through lectures and school subjects, important as these obviously are, but must be forged and fostered through conscious programmes of interaction and exchange, which should include encouraging them to travel to and work in Africa as exchange, volunteer and even solidarity workers.

The fact is that whilst most of our youth aspire to travel to and may even identify with Western Europe and the United States, very few of them expect that they would ever travel to Africa or identify with her difficulties. There is little person-to-person interaction with the youth of other African States, and South Africans are obsessed with negative Western myths and stereotypes about Africa and Africans. We are welcoming of the whites and Europeans in a manner that we are not of Africans because we believe that the latter are below us and sub-standard, hence when they are in South Africa they are here to steal our jobs. Yet, there is so much we can learn from the immense entrepreneurial spirit of the African immigrants, the wealth of their culture and enormity of their spirit and resilience.

Much of what we know about Africa is largely informed by popular media steeped in Afro-pessimism. We spend too much time trying to find that which distinguishes us from the rest of Africa. We enjoy being patted on the back by the West and likened to it. We then get surprised when our likeness with Africa is laid bare as though Africa was not one continent and all Africans one people. The question is; how does it help us and our pursuits to be different from the rest of Africa? How did it happen that a strong sense of African identity and solidarity we forget during the struggle has so easily and quickly been discarded?

South Africans can never claim to be citizens of the world until they have claimed and asserted their Africanness. It is when we embrace our identity as Africans that we can be embraced by humanity as a whole as part of itself. Our very struggle against apartheid was premised precisely on this reclaiming our Africanness and humanity.

The youth must thus be taught both that South Africa is an African country in Africa, and that Africa is bound by a common destiny.

** Malusi Gigaba is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) and a former President of the ANC Youth League.

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