Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President Of The Inkatha Freedom Party
On June 16th 1976 something fundamental shifted in South Africa. From schools across Soweto, twenty thousand children abandoned their classrooms and took to the streets in a march to Orlando Stadium. Without the benefit of Twitter or WhatsApp, they had managed to coordinate a day of protest. Their teachers hadn’t told them to do it. Their parents were taken by surprise. And the oppressive government of an apartheid state was caught off balance.
It was the first time in South African history that the power of our youth became clear. Until then, the liberation struggle had been led by an older generation on behalf of our youth. But on June 16th, young South Africans took that fight into their own hands. With astonishing courage, school children faced the might of the apartheid police, armed with nothing but their determination to oppose a future that was being created for them.
Tragically, the apartheid police responded with force, opening fire and injuring hundreds of children. At least 176 innocent young lives were lost. Blood ran in these streets. In the midst of it all, a photo was taken of the 12 year old Hector Pietersen dying in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubo, as his sister ran screaming in terror. That photo has become an iconic image, one that we will always associate with the brutality of the past.
Looking back now, we know that something changed that day. Suddenly the youth were seen as a driving force of our liberation struggle. Calls came from the ANC’s mission-in-exile for children to engage a campaign of chaos and destruction, to make South Africa ungovernable. They urged learners to abandon their classrooms for good, to burn down their schools and set fire to their textbooks. A slogan rang out across South Africa that education could wait until liberation was achieved.
I had been at the forefront of the liberation struggle for more than 20 years by the time we witnessed June 16th. My own uncle, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, had founded the liberation movement and I had been raised in the ideologies of freedom, equality and social justice. I was already on a mission from the leadership of the ANC to undermine the apartheid system from within, by using my position as Chief Minister of KwaZulu to derail their grand schemes.
A year before June 16th, I had founded Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe, as a centre of political mobilisation within our own country, and more than a million oppressed South Africans already held membership. So when June 16th happened here in Soweto, many people turned to me for guidance. “Should we heed the call to abandon education?” “Should we engage a campaign of chaos?”
These questions weighed on my mind, because I knew the degree of hardship and humiliation we were suffering. I knew how painful life was for so many millions and I could see that the future would not be changed unless we ourselves changed it. But I also understood that we could not destroy, without building.
If we merely unleashed chaos, we would inherit chaos when freedom came. If we weakened the economy through a call for international sanctions and disinvestment, we would – on the day of liberation – inherit a weakened economy. It we sowed the seeds of lawlessness, we would reap instability in a democratic South Africa.
But, on the contrary, if we could prepare a young generation to take the reins of leadership in all spheres of a liberated country, we could ensure a future in which not only the vote was secured, but also a trajectory of growth, development and prosperity.
Because of this, I wanted to see the youth of 1976 educated, trained and empowered, so that they could become more than cannon fodder of a liberation campaign. I wanted them to become the future of South Africa; the future teachers, nurses, lawyers, journalists, administrators, technicians, industrialists, investment bankers and entrepreneurs. I wanted us to build the future, not just destroy the wrongs of the present.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” He may have been American and he may have been a President, but he came from a lifetime of hardship. He had lost his job. His business had failed. The love of his life had died when he was just in his twenties. And time after time, he failed to win the appointment he sought as a leader. Still, he persevered, believing that he could create something better. And he did, not just for himself, but for millions throughout the world, for his presidency paved the way for the abolition of slavery.
I mention this example of perseverance under trial because I believe that we all have a degree of faith within us. It is up to us to nurture that faith and strengthen it, through good decisions, courage and perseverance. When we commit to build our future, we actively begin to change the world.
So when oppressed South Africans asked me whether we should abandon education, I told them no. I explained my vision for empowering the youth, through knowledge, skills and opportunity. I explained the leverage that education would give us as we worked to overthrow an unjust system. And I told learners to stay in their schools and put education first, because education is a tool for liberation.
As Chief Minister, I began to build as many classrooms as possible. I opened colleges of education to produce more teachers, and I ensured that schools were held accountable for delivering a high standard of education. While everywhere else schools burned, the schools in KwaZulu opened on time and learners learned.
When this province became a theatre of war, prominent black leaders came to me to seek a place for their children in our schools; people like Percy Qoboza, the editor of the largest black newspaper, the World. Dr Nthato Motlana, Chairperson of the Committee of Ten, also asked me to arrange for his son, Karabo, to continue his education in one of our schools.
This was not an easy road to walk, for I found myself in conflict with the ANC’s mission-in-exile who were calling for sanctions, disinvestment, ungovernability and an armed struggle. But my focus was on the youth, for they would inherit all that we were fighting for.
My resolve was tested again when the apartheid government declared that universities would be set up according to ethnicity, and we in the liberation movement were urged not to support these so-called “bush colleges”. Again I considered what was best for our youth, and I gave my support to institutions like the University of Zululand, raising funds through my friends in the United States. My cousin, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu, and many of our amakhosi shared my vision for an educated youth.
When the University of Zululand appointed me as Chancellor, I spoke to every graduate about the need to keep learning, keep growing and keep believing that we can make a difference through our own efforts. For 21 years, I capped graduates, and for 21 years I heard their lament that there were no jobs available. This is not a new cry in South Africa. It has merely become much louder and much worse.
But I listened to what young people were saying, and I went to the head of Anglo American, Mr Harry Oppenheimer, to get funding for a technical university so that young people could be trained in vocational skills. The result of that is the Mangosuthu University of Technology.
I was equally concerned with children who couldn’t attain a tertiary education. Thus I established Emandleni-Matleng, where even those who didn’t make it to matric were armed with skills. Many young people, both boys and girls, went through that institution, and they became artisans, builders and farmers. They were taught self-help and self-reliance, and many went on to become entrepreneurs.
When I look back now, I thank God for instructing me to empower the youth. Today there are many leaders in their fields who trace their success back to schooling in KwaZulu. Under an apartheid regime, they were taught to become the game-changers and future shapers. They were taught to build.
I want this generation of young South Africans to be inspired by the youth of 1976. I want you to discover the latent power within you to change your circumstances. I know the hardship you face. I am not removed from the suffering of young men and women as you struggle to survive in a stagnant economy.
I know that more than half of our youth are unemployed and are dependent for survival on social grants and family members. Some rely on other sources of income, including crime, prostitution and drug dealing. Countless young people find themselves abused, because poverty makes us vulnerable. You get up, day in and day out, with no idea how to make ends meet, never mind how to start a business.
These are the realities of life for most of our youth. I am not here to patronise you with pretty words, telling you that you can be whatever you want to be. There are very real limitations and obstacles to fulfilling our dreams. But I know, from many years of experience, that the only way to succeed is to never, ever give up.
I want to urge you not to abandon your courage. When you read the headlines predicting a deepening recession, believe it, because it’s true. Poor leadership has taken our country on a path of economic disaster, and corruption has stolen the funding that should have been used to create employment. We are in dire straits. And those who will suffer the most in the years to come are you, the youth of our nation.
I am angry about that. And you should be angry too. Because I worked tirelessly to empower the youth of South Africa, only to have the future wrecked by a corrupt government under democracy. Your future was wrecked. It was taken from you by people who are too arrogant to admit they are wrong, and too power hungry to do what is needed to fix their mistakes.
Does that mean there is no hope? No. There is always hope. Wherever there is someone willing to stand up, there is hope. I am willing to stand up. Even in the twilight of my life I will stand up for our youth. Because I understand that tomorrow is yours, not mine. It’s about you. You are the ones who can make a change in South Africa.
If you can find the kind of courage those children had in 1976, you too can face the might of a corrupt government armed with nothing but your determination to oppose them. You too can cause something to shift in South Africa. You can change the future.
I am still working to empower our youth. In the IFP we believe that young people are powerful drivers of development and we place them at the forefront of our battle to rescue South Africa. From the level of local government, where many of our Councillors are members of the Youth Brigade, right through to national level, where our Chairperson of the Youth Brigade serves as a Member of Parliament, we have placed young leaders in strategic positons.
The IFP boasts the youngest mayor, the Mayor of Endumeni, who is a bright young man in his twenties. Just this week, our Member of Parliament, the Hon. Mr Albert Mncwango, took up his new position as Mayor of Nongoma, and we sent another member of the Youth Brigade to Parliament to continue his work. In Abaqulusi, we face a crisis right now because there are some who oppose our nominee for Mayor on the basis that he is too young. They even oppose his being Deputy Mayor!
But we believe in empowering youth. You are the ones who must survive the difficult journey we are on right now as a nation. And you are the ones who will carry the biggest load. Integrity demands that we support you. Indeed, I constantly petition our municipalities and provincial governments to assist youth with skills training and opportunities so that our youth can become creators of employment.
I marvel at what some young people have been able to do. They have avoided the temptation to give in to frustration. They have refused to give up. And they have steered away from alcohol and drugs which have drowned so many of their friends. They have started community projects. They have become politically active. They are finding ways to generate an income that leaves their dignity intact. These young people are making a difference.
I want to see them helped, so that they can make a bigger impact. To me, the starting point should be food security. Things are not going to get better in our country for a long time to come. Indeed, they are going to get worse. Simple economics warns us of this truth. So food security is going to become an increasingly bigger problem.
We need to teach our young people to produce food, and to remind this generation that nutrition doesn’t come from a supermarket or a fast-food chain. It comes from the soil. It comes from our own efforts.
There is no doubt in my mind that unemployment is the biggest crisis we face. We need to get people working, and train them up to seize opportunities.
But beyond everything else that we do to survive this crisis, we need to go to the source of the problem and remove the weak leadership that brought us to this point. Unless we use our right to vote, and vote the right leaders into power, all this will be a losing battle.
I am inspired when I see so many young people at a national day rally. It is not only Youth Day that brings out our youth. Whenever we celebrate as a nation, or gather together to commemorate a shared experience, the crowd is always predominantly young. That tells me that you are in it. You are part of shaping this nation. Indeed, you are driving the narrative as the story of South Africa unfolds.
I urge you to have courage. Never give up. For as long as you are willing to stand, there is always hope.
I thank you.