June 16 1976 changed the course of South African history and today 40 years on, the class of ’76 is still inspiring students to fight for equitable education and resources.
Speaking to the Atlantic Sun, Sea Point High School pupils said Youth Day was important to them and inspired them to strive for equality in education.
Sea Point High School Grade 12 pupil Mihlali Mali, who lives in Khayelitsha, said the battle for equal education for all schools still continues.
He also said that more could be done to stress the significance of the day. “We need to know that we have to work together as students to change things.”
Mihlali said one of the major challenges that pupils of today face was inequality of education at the different schools. “As much as things have changed from the past there are still issues with inequality. Some schools have better equipment but at the end of the year we all right the same (exam) paper,” he said.
Another Sea Point High School Grade 12 pupil, Edward Dlungana, agreed that one of the biggest challenges was inequality in education.
“Youth Day is a day for me continue the work to make a better future. It is about how to change bad things into good.”
He said one of the biggest lessons learnt from the class of 1976 was how united students were in their conviction. “It is about togetherness. You don’t have to judge and criticise, we should try and motivate each other. There are big disadvantages for some of the township schools.”
Grade 12 pupil, Siyamthanda Mvuka, said remembering and saluting the youth of 1976 is important. “We have to remember all the things they went through for us to be free and for us to do what they were unable to do.
“It is motivation for us to do better and celebrate the day in a more productive way to ensure that we are also making a better future for the next generation.”
She said the battle to level the field on the education front was the struggle for her generation. “You will find that there are some schools that are more privileged than others. The education that you get is not equal.”
Bo-Kaap resident Osman Shaboodien, who is chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association, was 17 in 1976 and said the student protests in Soweto was an awakening to those in Cape Town.
Mr Shaboodien, who attended Trafalgar High School, said the protests, and the violence that followed, was a rallying cry to students in Cape Town. “They were dark days but there was also light. The protests around the country didn’t happen simultaneously but eventually they spread to Cape Town. We stood in solidarity with the pupils of Soweto. A lot of the schools across the Cape Peninsula stood together. We stood together against the old government.”
Mr Shaboodien said he still remembers the brutality of the apartheid police.
“They beat up one of our teachers and a lot of the pupils. Some of our classmates were locked up and we didn’t even know what had happened to them. One pupil was shot dead by police metres away from the school.”
He said he salutes the bravery of that generation but also saw similarities in recent student protests around the country. “We strived for all of this together.”
Mr Shaboodien added there were still challenges that the students of today face, such as the battle for free education.
“We are still (trapped) in the society fabric of apartheid.”
He said it was important this generation knew what really happened on that fateful day in 1976 and the protests that followed.
“They (the students) were prepared to stand up for what they believed in.”
Mr Shaboodien said his involvement in the protests led to him and many others being very active in their communities.