Youth Day 2016: What courage means for change

Commemorating 40 years

On 16 June 2016, we commemorate 40 years since the Soweto Uprising. Youth Day serves to remind us South Africans of the importance of the youth and the impact the youth has had and still has on various aspects of our society. What the youth fought for on that day, the youth is still fighting for today: freedom, to have a voice, to be listened to.

On 16 June 1976, the government and police officials were caught off-guard when the volcano of angry school children erupted, releasing vigorous emotion. The police answered with aggression. These events are akin to the events leading up to the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall university riots.

2015/2016 will go down in history as a year second to 1976 in the way students fought to re-invent the wheel of history. Students, the youth, without a doubt, premise that the time for change has arrived. And they mean business.


The Focus

#FeesMustFall and riots in the universities

The university protest actions of 2015 and this year have raised some fundamental questions about transformation at South African universities. In April 2015 a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town’s campus. This action was the turning point for the way in which students organised and drove a national and later, an international debate about decolonisation and structural change in universities.

The student led protest movements which started in October 2015 were in response to an increase in fees at South African universities and the terms #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and #OpenStellenbosch became household names.

On 14 October 2015, students at the University of Witwatersrand started protesting in response to an announcement by the university that fees would be raised by 10.5%. Many other university students, from 13 campuses across the country followed suit, some more violent and destructive than others.

On 23 October 2016, President Zuma announced from within the Union Buildings that there would be no increase in university fees in 2016.


To whom the power?

Once again, it’s the youth that had the courage to resist the system, just as they did during the Soweto uprising in 1976.


Why is it effective? The change it brings

The students succeeded in putting an important question on the national agenda: What a public university in Africa today should be, the values it should uphold and that it must be accessible (affordable) for all. They managed to succeed in seven days, with a result that many university chancellors have been struggling with for over a decade.

The victory of the fees increase may be momentary, but one has to look at the lasting effect, the bigger picture: When we look at the outcomes of the student uprising of 1976, it did not produce an immediate result, a quick-fix. A number of protests were necessary, in order for their voices to be heard. To reach the goal of ending apartheid took many more years to fulfil, but what it did achieve was to make a statement that the powers of the day could not ignore.

Students have once again proven to the greater society that we must not sit back and accept whatever is handed to us. There truly IS power in numbers – if you are willing to be an instrument, change can be effected.


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