It is hard to believe that it has been 40 years since schoolchildren were brutally gunned down while peacefully protesting for their right to quality education.
Today, we can look to townships such as Soweto where the education of formally disadvantaged children has been prioritised by this government and basic education is a fundamental right — a right that should not ever be taken for granted.
Considering all of the gains this generation has, it seems like an insult to the class of ’76, to treat the right to education callously. Those brave young people sacrificed their lives fighting for the education our children have access to today, yet some see education as a bargaining chip.
Despite the deplorable conditions and the severity of our struggle we never ever had a situation where we destroyed schools in the manner we are seeing today in places like Vuwani. We respected and valued education because we knew it was the weapon we needed to free ourselves from the social and political cycle we were in.
I look at the young people in Orlando High School, who vandalised their own school last month, and I ask myself if they know what the youth of ’76 sacrificed for them to have the opportunities they have now. Young people today have their own struggles. They are grappling with social ills like crime, poverty, alcoholism, gangsters and drugs.
These young activists must look to the class of ’76 for inspiration, but must be co-ordinated and thoughtful in their approach to fighting for their rights. The youth of ’76 were organised and knew what they wanted to achieve with their actions.
The haphazard nature of protests where mob mentality and destruction takes over will take us backwards as a nation. It is a shame and an insult to the memory of the many who died in the streets of Soweto and around the country on June 16 1976.
Angie Motshekga is the minister of basic education.