Youth Day 2021 was incredibly memorable for me. We commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Soweto uprising by engaging with likeminded young people interested in making a change and difference within their communities.
We embarked on a tour to the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre, once known as the Pretoria Maximum Prison. It was here that I got to grips with life on death row, learning about prisoners, especially political prisoners, who were executed there.
The tour of the memorial site kicked off at the chapel which is where families gathered to say their final goodbyes to their loved ones. What struck me was hearing how the very families were not allowed to see the deceased, who would only be identified by a name tag where paupers graves awaiting to close in on their existence. One can only imagine the feelings of grief and disbelieve these families were engulfed
with at the time.
\Quietly walking up the 52 steps literally gave me shivers and made my heart pound fast as it felt like I was going for execution myself. I could only imagine how terrified the actual prisoners were or what their thoughts were as they walked quietly to their sad and final destination. The feedback room was the most scariest for me because that’s when we saw the actual structure that was used to hang their bodies.
It felt so real when the prison warder began explaining how the actual hanging was done. Instinctively, I had a clear picture of the process as if it was taking place right in front of us. The youngest person to be executed at the gallows was an 18-year old. My only thought was the realisation that here we are marking Youth Day, remembering the
likes of Hector Pieterson but what about the sheer cruelty, what about the sacrifices?
Even though it was a sad and touching experience to go to the Maximum Prison, I am appreciative of the experience by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation for taking us on a learning experience of our past, our history that some of our leaders went through. It is my wish that other young people open themselves up to reading and learning about our history and where we come from. I was humbled by the words by Solomon Mahlangu who was also executed there in 1979 when he said, “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the struggle”.
The struggle has not ended. Our country is faced with issues of corruption. Are we not the nourished trees that Solomon Mahlangu bravely referred to? It is our duty to protect and defend the freedom they fought for yet never lived to see or enjoy. Corruption breaks the trust of people in communities and a complete loss of hope. I have seen this in my own community particularly amongst my peers.
As we continue to hear of stories of corruption, we must remember that silence is not the easier option and that no one will fight our battles for us. In this regard I applaud all of the whistle-blowers who refused to remain quite, hiding away with the truth. These really are our national heroes as we know now what we know because of your bravery to speak about some of these shivering accounts.
I am reminded of the Latin sating qui tacet consentire videtur which simply means that silence implies consent. I commend all of those who also spoke out and continue to speak up against gender- based violence no matter how much it hurts for them to relieve these moments. To those too who stand up and speak out against racism where it manifests. These are ills we are confronted with in our society and these voices that are emerging through movements such as #MeToo and several others are saying we have had enough and indeed we have.
I am also reminded of the words of Maya Angelou who said, “I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand”. This is what these voices symbolise to me. They speak for so many who refuse, with reason, to be silenced. At the Union Buildings, where our programme concluded, we stood representing thousands from our respective communities. Here we are, as young people afforded the opportunity to express ourselves and our voices on what needs to be done to defend our democracy.
I would love to see more of young people standing for our future. These are the fruitsthat Mahlangu died trying to yield. As the youth we need to do something, we need to take action. This can be alone orcollectively but we need to stand for a better future.
*Siphokazi is an 18-year old activist from the Kathrada Youth Club in the Lawley community.