Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
On Tuesday we remembered when, on 16 June 1976, thousands of schoolchildren marched through Soweto ostensibly protesting against a ruling to install Afrikaans as a second compulsory medium of instruction in schools. The police fired on them, killing thirteen-year-old Hector Pietersen. In the ensuing chaos, Soweto became a bloody battlefield and within days strikes and riots spread to the Cape.
After the massacre, I was asked by some of the prominent leaders of the Committee of Ten in Soweto like Dr Ntatho Motlana and Dr Percy Qoboza, the Editor of ‘The World’, which was banned by the apartheid regime, to make arrangements for their children to study in KwaZulu schools. We arranged for the children to attend the kwaDlangezwa High school where Dr Sibusiso Bengu was the principal and also the then Secretary General of the Inkatha National Cultural Liberation Movement.
By the end of the year the death toll was given as 575 dead and 2,389 wounded. International condemnation of the Soweto riots gave supporters of the armed struggle a fillip, but I rejected the call for ‘liberation now, education later’ which prompted black people to undermine and destroy the black education system in order to foment students into supporting the armed struggle. We are still living with the consequences today. At the time, Inkatha juxtaposed the slogan with ‘education for liberation’ in the belief that education should be turned into a tool of liberation and human growth. Looking back, I believe this truth remains as relevant today.
Young people want a stable job, education for their children and a pension for their own old age – which creeps up much faster than we think. Social advancement, paired with social responsibility, has always been deeply rooted in our African tradition. I never believed that the structural underdevelopment of South Africa’s black communities could be addressed by decree from above. I think this is one of the key lessons of the class of 1976. The communities held and still hold the key to their social advancement in their own hands.
Real development can only be generated from below.
I believe we can increase the likelihood of our young people growing up as caring, capable adults by providing opportunities for the development of skills, competencies and positive experiences with involved adults who have high expectations in life and a positive attitude toward youth.
I believe that our youth, our families, our communities and our congregations are providing the essential nutrients required to thrive in life. The crucial ingredients are caring, capable families; effective, safe schools; efficient social networks of understanding and competent adults; and welcoming community organisations that provide opportunities for fun, recreation and meaningful contribution by and for the youth.
In order to materialise all this, our youth must have access to the resources and opportunities that will not only allow them to imagine wonderful possibilities for themselves, but to pursue them with the encouragement, vigour and effective guidance of everyone around them.
It is vital too that the zest of youth is balanced with the experience and wisdom of older people. Both are necessary ingredients of a well-functioning society. Whilst I do not subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s witticism that ‘youth is wasted on the young’, I am reminded of the founder of the PAC Robert Sobukwe’s maxim which always makes me smile, ‘It is possible for a person to repeat a day’s experience for the rest of their life’. He said this to counter the argument of those who at the time were belittling our political stand as the youth, on the basis that we were inexperienced.
We are also reminded this week that we need innovation and fresh vigour in HIV prevention which affects the youth worst of all. We must determine what the most effective ways to reduce transmission are where multiple concurrent sexual partnerships appear to be driving the pandemic. We must tackle head on the issue of early sexual debut with vulnerable young girls. We must devise workable strategies to impart to these young women how to negotiate safe sex and challenge patriarchal dominance. We must figure out how civil society can best be engaged to turn the tide against HIV and bring the terrible numbers down. As I always say, if the Ugandan people led by President Yoweri Museveni managed to reduce the pandemic from 30 percent to 5 percent, why can’t we do the same with even more resources than Uganda has?
To do this we will need to inculcate in our youth selfless volunteerism, enlightened activism and political leadership which can exist at every level and thrive in all walks of life. We know what works in epidemics which are still concentrated among those subcultures that engage in risky behaviours such as intravenous drug use or sex work. We must therefore put our heads together to help governments and NGOs to implement and support programmes which are proven to be effective. We must not be afraid to take controversial steps – so long as we are careful, discreet and conscious of people’s needs and basic human rights.
As we turn to these noble tasks, we have no better inspiration than the gold class of 1976 to show us that, as much as freedom is the outcome of a collective effort, it is a matter of choice and it is the work of individuals.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Liezl van der Merwe, 083 611 7470.