Orlando Stadium packed for 40th anniversary of June 16
Orlando Stadium packed for 40th anniversary of June 16

More than 35 000 people, mostly the youth, gave President Jacob Zuma, his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Johannesburg Executive Mayor Cllr Parks Tau a rousing welcome as they arrived to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the June 16 1976 Soweto student uprising.

On that day 40 years ago, thousands of youths, led by Macdonald Teboho “Tsietsi” Mashinini and others, took to the streets to protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools.

In a wide-ranging address, President Zuma lauded the heroism of the 1976 generation who stood up to the evil system of apartheid. He said as the country reflected on the achievements of the democratic government since 1994, there were still challenges the youth faced. He added, however, that there were also opportunities that the youth should take advantage of.

The president condemned the destruction of schools and other facilities during protests, saying the youth of 1976 never burnt schools because they recognised that only education could change their lives.

“Violent protests threaten the fabric of society. We salute all those who fell on that day,” he said.

“We salute [the] selfless sacrifices [of] people like Tsietsi Mashinini and others who died in exile. We acknowledge journalists who worked under very difficult conditions to let the world know what was happening."

Our freedom was not free. We have come a long way since 1976 but the struggle continues.”

He said today’s youth could honour the 1976 generation by making education a priority.

“Nothing must detract you from getting an education.”

Mayor Tau thanked President Zuma for his “message of hope and inspiration”. He urged the youth to take advantage of opportunities the City of Johannesburg was offering.

Thirteen-year-old Lesedi Mashinini, niece of feisty and iconic June 16 1976 youth leader Tsietsi Mashinini, delivered a powerful message at a Youth Day commemoration rally at a packed Orlando Stadium in Soweto yesterday. Dignitaries and the public listened attentively as Lesedi, in what would have made her uncle proud, called on the youth to stay away from drugs and alcohol and concentrate on getting an education for them to become productive members of society.

Speaking with authority beyond her age, Lesedi said: “I’m here carrying the baton of the fallen 1976 heroes. We thank the government for this free country, for recognising our fallen relatives. As the youth, we must realise that only you can liberate you.

“#No-to-drugs-and-alcohol, #no-to-pursuit-of-material-things, #no-to-destroying-schools-and-libraries. Only education will liberate the youth,” the teenager, who was speaking on behalf of families whose relatives were killed on that fateful day 40 years ago, said to loud applause. Tsietsi Mashinini fled the country amid a crackdown on leaders of the uprising and died mysteriously in exile in Conakry, Guinea, in 1990. He was buried at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto.

The City has initiated programmes such as Vulindlel' eJozi, Jozi@Work, Digital Ambassadors, Massive Open Online University (MOOV), #Hack.Jozi, among others, to assist the youth.

Athenkosi Sigenu, 20, of Motsoaledi township in Soweto, was one of the youths who attended the rally. He said he was grateful for the opportunities available for the youth in Johannesburg. He said he was benefiting from the City’s MOOV initiative through which he was studying Information Technology.

“The City, through programmes like Vulindel' eJozi, is empowering a lot of youths. Events like today’s are very important but more needs to be done to educate youth about what is available,” Sigenu said.