It has been 36 years since one of the bravest acts of defiance against the inhumane and degrading policies of Apartheid South Africa on the Black People of South Africa. Today, South Africa is a free and equal society according to the precepts of the South African Constitution, but the events of 16 June 1976 can never be forgotten in a hurry by South Africa and within its communities. This is because the Soweto Uprising (as it is also referred to) is reminiscent of an era of the dark period of apartheid when human rights were flagrantly violated. The youth of that generation showed bravery under the legendary leader, Tsietsi Mashinini, who organised a successful demonstration on 16 June 1976 for all learners to denounce “Bantu Education” as an inferior system of education for Black People and the divisive colour bar systems and its use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in local schools. However the march ended ferociously when the bloodshed of the young Hector Peterson who was 11years at the time was reported as the first victim of the 16 June 1976 massacre. Many young lives were also reported lost while some went missing up to this day basically from the 16 June carnage which was instigated by the state security of the apartheid regime. In truth, the heroes and heroines who were murdered for their right to human dignity, liberty, education, non-discrimination and this is the hub of the commemoration of youth day in South Africa, which has become International Youth Day observed worldwide today.
The 36th Anniversary of the Soweto uprising coincides with the Centenary of the African National Congress (ANC) and the 18th Anniversary of the advent of democracy in South Africa. Interestingly, upon emerging into the democratic era, the powerful words of former president Nelson Mandela reverberated saying: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” This was an affirmation of his knowledge of the atrocities that were committed against human dignity, equity and justice prior to liberation and freedom in 1994. However, the question to ask is, to what extent have the rights to equality, human dignity, education, and indeed all other basic human rights, been achieved in South Africa?
From a broader perspective this day is a commemoration of the fight against different categories of injustices and human rights violations that have either been inherited from the apartheid regime – even though we are in a democracy now – or are being experienced within the current socio-economic and political climate. The struggle for the enjoyment of these rights remains very much alive and pertinent even after 18 years of democratic governance
Besides efforts made at international and regional level to commit government’s obligations toward human rights through the ratification of international and regional human rights mechanisms as well as the plethora of domestic laws designed to protect and promote the rights of citizens and inhabitants of this great country (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Rights of The Child, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the African Youth Charter and other instruments) – the South African Constitution (1996) being pre-eminent of them all), it remains insufficient to boast about our commitment in paper because the domestication of these instruments at the grassroots remains neglected and undermined.
The current situation of human rights faced by children in South Africa contradicts the sacrifices of the Mashinini and Peterson’s death and indeed, the words of former president Nelson Mandela in the struggle because these people stood against the apartheid system and what it stood for through the words, actions and even death. They fought for human dignity but still there are still large numbers of learners who cannot be at schools for lack of money for fees. In spite of the concerted effort by the government to provide education even for the poorest of the poor through the provision of the no-fee schools by means of the Schools Act of 1996, the situation of education especially in the poorer communities remains dire. The lack of school uniforms and text books as well as dilapidated school infrastructure remain huge crisis areas Children still walk long journeys to school. The distances that learners must travel to access schools remains alarming without the provision of adequate means of transport. Schools in the townships have become empty as parents are sending their children to the urban schools in search of quality education which is far away from the townships. This becomes a burden on parents as finances to pay transport fares and fees are not always available, and this impacts negatively on the child’s ability to concentrate. In the case of children living in rural areas who have to walk long distances to schools far away from their homes, it impacts on their safety as most of these journeys are really through risky paths.
While hunger is high due to inadequate or non-existent feeding schemes, water, sanitation and health services in many of these schools contradict sacrifices of the 16 June 1976 and constitutional dispensation. The preponderance of child rape, murder disappearances, molestation by educators, including corporal punishment and Ukuthwala tradition practiced mostly in rural areas to children perpetuates impunity and repressive legacy of apartheid. Teenage pregnancy is a crisis rocking schools, and although the government through the National Child Care Protection Forum (NCCPF) continues to seek out avenues through which children can be protected through sex education, mobile clinics and consultations as well as social workers to help in the counselling of young learners in relation to sexual health, more still need to be done. The Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with disability and the National Child Care Protection Forum (NCCPF) still have a long way to go. The current case of the state of education in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo Provinces needs urgent attention.
Learners also face lack of orientation relating to preparation for entry into tertiary education – most remain clueless with courses to pursue at tertiary level. This remains a huge crisis as the Matriculation Examination pass rates remain precarious for many learners in the country.
We believe that the billions of South African Rands stolen from the State’s coffers remains shameful and a commission of inquiry should be set up to hold the perpetrators of fraud accountable. As the report of the auditor general reflected mismanagement of funds and corruption in some provinces and the Department of Education was mentioned among departments which did not submit it report, it points to certain anomalies. These corrupt acts affect learners detrimentally as there were schools whose learners had no texts books despite money being paid to an independent body to furnish schools with text books. This is a serious situation that demands adequate attention and wrong doers must be prosecuted
Inequalities remain rife as this country remains one of the highest in terms of income inequalities. This remains divided among racial, gender, and age lines, but the majority of those who bear the brunt of this inequality in terms of their levels of poverty are predominantly people in the rural areas. This is despite the fact that S9 of the South African Constitution (Act 108 of 1996) stipulates that everyone is equal before the law, and that the government must take effective steps to address and reduce inequality. We also observe that the condition of non-nationals and their children who are eligible to go to school remains very precarious because of events such as the mass arrests and deportation of non-nationals and the non-registration of non-national children as well as unaccompanied minors who for no fault of theirs do not have the requisite documentation. In addition there is a huge urgency to care for children with disability, children from the indigenous community as well as LGBTI children. Indeed, the rights of these children should be protected, and this is one of the areas in which the government should have more serious plans
The level of unemployment among the youth remains alarming, and this has prompted the contemporary heated debates around the “Wage Subsidy” – the new policy being proposed by government. This is an issue that must be properly analyzed and addressed to avoid a situation of robbing Peter to pay Paul in the name of job opportunities that are tantamount to cheap labour exploitative and inhumane on the youth.
Following all of these areas and the importance for the State to pursue effectively its obligations as stipulated in the Constitution, HURISA maintains that, in the best interest of the child and in consonance with all the relevant human rights instruments, more efforts should be made to reach out to communities living in rural areas which bear the brunt of poverty and inequality. Let this commemoration of the struggle for human dignity, equality and socio-economic, civil and political rights, re-enkindle in the South African society the quest to secure adequately an environment free from oppression, suppression and hatred. Let it strengthen a united nation fighting for a just and egalitarian society.
Contact: Junior Sikhwivhilu: Youth Desk: Human Rights Institute of South Africa