Address by President Nelson Mandela on Youth Day, Pietersburg

16 June 1996

Premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi;
Ministers, and MEC's;
Leaders of the youth.

Today we assemble to mark the 20th anniversary of the June 16 uprising.

As we do so, the memories of tender young bodies strewn in the streets, in the silence of death, in the fading smoke of the policeman's gun, and amid the tears of whole communities - all these memories come gushing back: to remind us of the terrible past from which we come; to infuse us with pride in the heroism of our youth; and to enjoin us once more, that never again shall state guns be turned on the youth or anyone else simply because they want a better education and a better life.

We assemble to once more say: thank you, to our youth who were at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. When freedom beckoned, you faced death and bullets and did not flinch; you responded to the call to build the underground and the mass democratic movement; you swelled the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe and acquitted yourselves with distinction in the battlefield.

This you did for yourselves and for the nation. You did not ask for special favours. And you do not ask for special favours today.

But let me say this and say this with the utmost conviction: the nation owes you a clear policy and practical measures to ensure that the youth contributes to, and benefits from, our new democracy. This we have started to do; and today I am proud to announce that the process to set up the National Youth Commission has been completed, and the Commission will be launched at the beginning of July.

This Commission will be charged with safeguarding the aspirations of young people and assisting government in evolving policies that are sensitive to their needs and aspirations.

On this 20th anniversary of June 16, I am pleased to announce that I have received recommendations on the individuals who will serve in the National Youth Commission. I have accepted these recommendations:

The names of the full-time Commissioners to be appointed are as follows:

Hlengiwe Bengu; Nomfundo Mbuli; Mpho Lekgoro; Max van der Wath and Otto Kunene.

They will be assisted by the following part-time Commssioners:

Thabo Masebe; Nazeema Mohamed; Richard Moloko; Rene Jordaan and Desmond Louw.

And, from the Provinces, the following nominees have been submitted:

Gavin Paulse from the Western Cape; Sidwell Sibanda from the NOrthern Province; Yolisa Makasi from the Eastern Cape; Pinky Kunene from KwaZulu/Natal; Steve Mbuyisa from Mpumalanga; Tebogo Mampane from Gauteng; Moira Marais-Martin from the Northern Cape; Lumka Nogogo from the Free State and Moeti Moiloa from the North West Province.

I am confident that these Commssioners-to-be, fully appreciate the enormous challenges they face. Theirs is a responsibility not only to the youth; but to the nation as a whole, to ensure that young people become an active part of nation-building and reconciliation, reconstruction and development. Legislation gives the Youth Commission wide-ranging powers; and - depending on the application of the Commissioners and the support that they receive from you - it guarantees a vibrant and dynamic role for the youth in the evolution of our democracy.

The success of the Youth Commission will depend on the contributions that will and must be made by young people. Its foundation will be strong youth organisations from all political persuasions. Without support from our youth organisations, the Youth Commission will not succeed; our nation will not succeed.

Comrades and compatriots;

We owe it to the youth who perished in struggle on June 16 and in the many years that followed, to ensure that we achieve what we have set for ourselves; to build a better life for all South Africans.

On that fateful day 20 years ago, you jolted the nation from its slumber, and rejected the slave education that the apartheid regime had implemented, with the hope of making Blacks accept their slavery. You changed the course of history, and accelerated the downfall of the apartheid system.

When on the 8 April this year, the Constitutional Assembly adopted the final constitution for the country; it was also realising the aspirations that the young minds of 1976 dreamt of.

Shortly before its adoption, three issues threatened final agreement. One of these involved the question of education provision, particularly the medium of instruction at schools.

Although approached from different points of view, the debate on the future of our education system was a fitting tribute to the generation of 1976 and the countless martyrs of youth who laid down their lives for a just educational dispensation.

With the adoption of this new constitution, the nation has created the framework for an education policy of which future generations will be proud.

The government is taking steps in redressing the wrongs that were inherited from apartheid.

Not long ago, a school in a town that is situated just a few kilometres from here captured the news headlines throughout the world for refusing to admit black pupils. While their anxieties were fully understandable given the years of indoctrination by successive racist governments, the parents at this school were actually saying that we should return to the old days of apartheid. That is something we just could not do.

It is fitting that on a day like June 16, that we should appeal to those who still harbour any fear about the future of their education, that they should be part of the larger South African community: they have nothing to fear because the strength of ournation lies in its diversity, and no one will trample on community languages, religion or culture.

The government is fully aware of the centrality of the transformation of institutions of higher learning. The Minister of education will convene a summit at the end of July at which the problems of transformation will be further addressed by all stake-holders.

We are also fully aware of the many and varied legitimate grievances that the students have: for example the genuine inability of some students to pay for their tuition. As a contribution to the alleviation of this burden, the government has launched a National Finance Scheme, which will be launched in Cape Town next week, to assist students in meeting their financial needs.

I would like to caution that as much as the problems of transformation have to be addressed, we must not in pursuit of this goal undermine the overall objective of our struggle, which is decent education for all our citizens. The government is concerned that certain elements among the different stakeholders, would like to see a state of anarchy descend in our universities and technikons. Our Youth must therefore be weary of opening themselves up for abuse and manipulation by those whose sole mission is to undermine our new democracy.

Let me emphasise, once more, that while we acknowledge the problems; while we do recognise the right to protest, I will not allow a situation in which, in the name of transformation, school property is destroyed, individuals are held hostage and lives are threatened. This is nothing more nor less than crime, and it will be dealt with as such.

I have just concluded discussions with the Vice-Chancellors of our universities and the Rectors of all our technikons at which these difficulties were discussed. We agreed on the absolute necessity for the transformation process to be speeded up. I intend continuing with these discussions particularly with youth and student organisations.

Dear compatriots;

The greatest challenge facing our nation is to conquer poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and ignorance. This challenge more so faces the youth - black and white. We must broaden the nation's skills base; improve our productivity; and make our goods more competitive in a world that is growing increasingly smaller.

We can only lay claim to progress when the bulk of our engineers, physicists, economists and other scientists emerge from the villages and townships; from Tshakuma and Nkowa-Nkowa. Zwelitsha and Mankweng. You must grab the opportunities that are being brought about by the new order with both hands.

The working youth is critical to our future. The economy depends on you. With your hard work and efforts at improving your skills, you can make ours one of the most prosperous nations in the world. Hand-in-hand with the many able professionals in all sectors, you have the energy to lead the nation in achieving this goal.

The Macroeconomic Framework announced by government two days ago, aims at unleashing your potential to make the economy grow at a rapid pace; to create more and more jobs; and, all in all, to improve the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme. Let us join hands to realise 6% growth by the year 2000.

I call on the unemployed youth not to despair. Use the opportunities that are starting to open up in big and small businesses. But don't rely merely on others. Create the opportunities yourselves, and take advantage of government programmes to assist small businesses, including small farmers.

A few weeks ago, government announced the National Crime Prevention Strategy to defeat the scourge of crime and violence which is stifling the blossoming of our democracy. The National Commissioner of Police has just unveiled the operational detail of this plan.

For the Strategy to succeed, it requires the full participation of the youth of the country. You, as young people, occupy a strategic position to be a critical resource for the crime combating services of the state. Do not allow criminals space to operate in your communities. Volunteer information to the police and participate in the Community Policing Forums. This is the challenge that is facing every young South African; and I call on youth of every political persuasion to launch a visible and active campaign in all localities to deal with these problems.

In our new constitution, we have a Bill of Rights which underpins the new way of life for all South Africans. It underpins the basic principle that all democratic South Africans fought for over decades; that South Africa belongs to all who live in it - black and white.

Guided by this belief, the overwhelming majority of South africans are working towards one nation pillared on the noble values of non-racism, non-sexism and the unity of the South African people. On this day, I wish to urge all South African youth to rededicate themselves to this vision. Only as a united youth and a united people, shall we be able to reconstruct our land and create an environment where there shall be a better life for all.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been sitting for a while now. I wish again to make a personal appeal to all South Africans who have experience to share, to appear before the Truth Commission. I am told that the hearings will be coming to Pietersburg soon. The Truth commission is an avenue to bury the evil deeds of the past and ensure they do not recur. Let us make use of it.

However, in recalling our sorrow, we should not lose sight of the heroism that was the hallmark of our struggle. We should take pride in the epic struggles that were fought by the youth and others in the villages and towns of the Northern Province and other parts of the country.

That heroism is required in even greater measure today; the heroism to build, to learn, to improve skills, and to unite the nation. The future is in your hands. Build it through hard work today.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website