This year, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation challenged me pay tribute to the youth of ’76 differently than from I had become used to. My experience had become typical, what with adults proudly donning school uniforms from head to toe, to social gatherings supposedly in memory of June 16.
Had it not been for the time old Sarafina, I am ashamed to say that very
little awareness around the meaning or history of the Soweto Uprising ever featured. With all its doom and gloom, global pandemic and all, this year I was able to spend the public holiday marked on June 16 and known as Youth Day in the country learning about historical events of the past.
Our day began with a special visit to the gallows at the Kgosi Mampuru II
Correction Centre, known during apartheid as Pretoria Maximum. It was here at an educational tour of the then death row that I got close to experiencing the cruelty and hardships that youth such as Solomon Mahlangu faced, leading to their traumatic death. Our tour guide explained to us that Mahlangu had been executed at the very prison.
Over the high prison walls and down to the streets back home, my peers were most likely out and about in their old school uniform on such an important public holiday. As the Kathrada Youth Clubs, we chose to commemorate it differently by educating ourselves on the price paid for
us to enjoy our freedom. When they says that walls cannot talk, walking around the gallows room, it felt as though the sombre message was loud enough, permeating through these walls. They closed in on over 3,
500 souls who lost their lives between 1902 to period 1989. A plaque mounted outside will inform you that a teenager, 18-years old to be exact, was executed there.
I could not begin to imagine the kinds of thoughts the late teen must have had as he climbed up the 52 steps leading to his execution. As we walked the same steps yet under different and safer circumstances, we were asked to do so while taking time to reflect. As a young South African today I feel that we are capable of doing so much more to honour some of the names written on those walls. In order for us to do better as the future generation and leaders, we need to educate ourselves more to understand where we come from.
The images, insights and discussions I engaged in during the trip is far from leaving my mind. Our justice system has evolved from the previous way of capital punishment but still our Constitution and democracy require protecting from the forces deadest on eroding it. Young people are faced with several issues today. These include unemployment, the bitter
effects of corruption, inequalities such as racism, rampant and often violent expressions of homophobia and a general sense of despondency. With all this said, there is hope in the form of a united, better informed and courageous youth who are bold enough to break through some of these walls.
I concluded my Youth Day commemoration with the feelings of
commitment inspired by fellow youth present representing their own communities under the banner of the Kathrada Youth Clubs. For my community of Finetown, I want to do better by being of service and an agent of change. I would encourage my peers to begin reading more about our liberation history to better understand that the life we enjoy today, with its challenges, came at a great cost and that our democracy should not be taken for granted.
*Bonginkosi is a member of the Kathrada Youth Club in Orange Farm and a volunteer at the Orange Farm SAPS Youth Crime Prevention desk.