The fight of 1976 continues today - Mmusi Maimane

DA leader says that many of the freedoms that that generation fought for have not yet materialised

The fight of 1976 continues today

16 June 2015

Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, at Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University, at the DA’s Youth Day commemoration. Maimane was joined by NMB Mayoral Candidate, Athol Trollip MPL, DA Eastern Cape Provincial Chairperson, Veliswa Mvenya MPL, and DA Youth Chairperson, Yusuf Cassim MP.

My fellow young South Africans,

I love traveling to Nelson Mandela Bay. The City has a buzz of excitement about it. 

It is ready to be great. And, believe me, with the right government, this city is going to take off. And its youth will be at the forefront.

Thank you for welcoming me here on this important day. I want to share with you some thoughts on what Youth Day means to me.

Today, 39 years ago, tens of thousands of young people across Soweto stood up to the apartheid government, demanding to be taught as equals in South Africa.

Their protest was about more than just the language of instruction. It was a protest against a system of education designed to keep them down.

This system was a deliberate policy to mis-educate black children in order to protect the opportunities of their white counterparts.

In the words of the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, the aim of Bantu Education was “to educate black people to know their place in society.”

According to Verwoerd’s apartheid script, this “place” for a black child in society was one where she could not dream big. Where there was no hope of a better life. Where a black child would make peace with his lot in life without questioning it.

One June 16, 1976, thousands of children stood up and said: “We don’t accept this place in society. And we don’t accept the education system designed to keep us there.”

Officially, 176 young South Africans lost their lives during this uprising, although some reports put this number far higher. These were children who stood up for a belief that their future could be better.

We will never forget them, because their sacrifice paved the way for the free and democratic South Africa we live in today. 

A South Africa where a child born in a township can dream of something far bigger.

Where your path in life is not determined by where you are born or what you look like.

A South Africa where a boy from Soweto can grow up to become the leader of the opposition party. My election as Leader of the DA is a tribute to these young people. 

That is the South Africa the children of the Soweto uprising fought and died for. Our freedom today was paid for by their sacrifice.

But 21 years into our hard-won democracy, we must ask ourselves: what does this freedom mean today? How has the life of the average South African been improved, and where are we still falling short?

The generation that took part in the 1976 uprising are now men and women in their 50s. Many of them have their own families, with children at school and universities, or perhaps looking for work.

39 years after the Soweto uprising – and 21 years after our first democratic election – this generation and their children should be reaping the benefits of this freedom. But are they?

While we have certainly come a long way since those dark days of apartheid – and life is indeed better for most South Africans – many of the freedoms that generation fought for have not yet materialised.

I have spent the past three weeks traveling across South Africa on my Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity Tour. I have visited and spoken to communities in every province.

And I can assure you, many young South Africans are still waiting for their symbolic Freedom to become real Freedom they can use.

Many young South Africans are still waiting for a time when Fairness means a society where their efforts are matched by their rewards.

Many young South Africans are still waiting for the Opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families.

But my Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity Tour wasn’t only about finding out what’s wrong in South Africa. It was also about sharing the DA’s plan to realise the dream for South Africa we share with many.

Last weekend, we launched our Vision 2029 in Soweto. This is our plan – our blueprint – for a South Africa under a DA government.

In it, we describe what our country will look like after ten years of a DA-led government.

Because our focus is on growing the economy to create jobs, it is a South Africa where our rising unemployment has not only been halted, but in fact been cut in half.

Because we don’t tolerate corruption and waste, it is a South Africa where all the state’s money gets spent on delivering services to the people.

Because we believe in the Rule of Law, it is a South Africa that is safe and peaceful, and where no one is above the law.

And importantly, it is a South Africa where children can dream big, because the opportunities are there for them to follow these dreams.

Recently, I have been speaking a lot about education and youth unemployment.

I have repeatedly said that one of the first priorities of a DA government will be to turn around our failing education system so that we can equip young South Africans to enter the job market with the skills and the confidence to make a success of their lives.

The state of our education, 21 years into our democracy, is shameful. Ours is considered to be among the very worst in the world.

History will one day show that the failure to provide our children with quality education will be our government’s single biggest failure.

Our children are being failed from the very early grades by teachers who can’t teach them to read.

By the time they get to the grades where they must use their reading skills to learn, they have a disadvantage that will never be erased.

These same children are then expected to complete high school under teachers who can’t get the basics right. In fact, many of these teachers can’t even pass the exams they set.

Thousands of children face a daily battle just to get to school, where they then have to deal with the threats of drugs and violence. They also have to deal with a lack of textbooks, a lack of desks and lack of toilets.

And from there it’s on to either tertiary education, of which only a very small percentage will qualify. Or straight into the job market, for which they are completely under-skilled.

When we talk about the destructive effects of unemployment and the need to create jobs, it is crucial that we also talk about of the urgent need to up-skill young people so that they can fill these jobs.

When the DA speaks of Opportunities, this is what we mean.

A DA government – the government we describe in Vision 2029 – will make this generation of school leavers and young job-seekers its priority. Because if we don’t, then youth unemployment will crush the dream of a prosperous South Africa.

We will start by fixing basic education. We will test all teachers and principals to ensure they’re competent. We will make sure that no child progresses through the lower grades without the ability to read.

And we won’t let a teacher’s union prevent us from doing this.

At high school level, we will make sure children know about all the options available to them, including the different types of schools they can attend.

We’ll let them know which jobs have a shortage of skills, and we’ll encourage them to follow these paths.

A DA government will ensure that all schools have sufficient desks and textbooks. We will make sure there is adequate scholar transport to get our children safely to school and back.

We will make sure that all our schools are, first and foremost, places of learning once more.

And once they’ve completed high school, a DA government will help them enter the job market through a range of programmes.

The first of these will be the implementation of a proper Youth Wage Subsidy – a state-funded tax rebate for employers who hire young people. This will allow thousands of young South Africans to get a foot in the jobs door.

We will also get rid of the failed National Youth Development Agency, which has nothing to show for all the money that has been pumped into it. A fully-fledged Youth Wage Subsidy will do far more for youth unemployment than NYDA ever could.

A DA government will guarantee free tertiary education for all qualifying students. No one should be denied the opportunity to study further because he or she cannot afford it.

We will make sure that our universities remain centres of knowledge. These must be tolerant institutions where diverse views are allowed and debate is encouraged.

But not everyone will end up studying for a university degree. Not everyone is destined to become a doctor or a lawyer. Our society is also made up of mechanics and bakers, artists and comedians.

And so it is important that we place more of our focus on vocational training, as well as on our internship and apprenticeship programmes.

It is also important that we nurture the entrepreneurial talents of our young people, because this is where the bulk of our jobs will one day come from.

If we can fix our schools and mentor our young job-seekers at the same time as kickstarting our economy to create jobs, we can beat youth unemployment within a generation.

Today, across South Africa, people will be talking about honouring the memory of those who fought and died for our freedom 39 years ago.

If we truly want to honour them, then the best we can do is to continue the fight they started: the fight for Opportunities for all through quality education and skills training.

Some say the DA’s Vision 2029 sounds too ambitious. They want to know how we plan to achieve in ten years what the ANC couldn’t do in 20.

But the answer to this is simple: We have a plan. All our focus is on the future, and on achieving that plan.

We’re not side-tracked by having to defend a compromised president.

We’re not handicapped by rampant corruption and waste.

We don’t reward loyal but unskilled cadres with powerful jobs.

We don’t spend our days reminiscing about past glories.

We have one goal, and that is a prosperous, inclusive and safe South Africa, united by the values of Freedom Fairness and Opportunities for all its people.

We are marching towards that goal, and nothing is going to stop us.

Change is coming to South Africa. It is coming to the Union Buildings, and it is coming right here to Nelson Mandela Bay.

I ask that you join me in building the South Africa we all want to live in.

Together, we will make this place great.

Thank you.

Issued by the DA, June 16 2015