The South African Federations of Trade Unions (SAFTU) remembers the struggle for freedom and democracy by the militant youth of the 1970s. These martyrs, had their blood spilled and accepted the fate of death in the hope that it will “nourish the tree(s) that will bear the fruits of freedom.”

45 years since the uprising, are the youth enjoying the fruits of freedom forged with blood of 1970s and 1980s martyrs?

Regrettably, the legacy of the 1970s martyrs is tainted by neoliberal henchmen and henchwomen in government who chop government expenditure on basic goods and services, whilst others are keeping for themselves these fruits of freedom through patronage and rampant corruption.

1976 student uprising

In 1976s, a combination of objective and subjective factors (owing to ideologies and organisations) led to young people in Soweto rising to fight against the Bantu

Education system of the white racist minority regime. Bantu Education system, in line with its intended outcomes, had kept the black majority in the perpetual state of

poverty, socio-economic inferiority to their white counterparts, cheap labour and a racially inferior complex. It is true that the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction ignited the student uprising in 1976. However, that is merely one fragment of the whole that

propelled black students to fight against the Bantu Education system. Other equally important factors included the unequal expenditure of government on the education for blacks. Compared to their white counter-parts, who had R644 spent on each of them, the bantu education department spent an outrageous R42 on each black student. Such gross underfunding led to crises in the bantu education sector.

From 1962 to 1971, no new school was built in Soweto. The problem of lack of infrastructure coincided with the rising enrolment of black learners to create a crisis of overcrowding in classrooms, which had adverse effects on learning and teaching.

The situation got so worse such that in certain schools, classrooms housed up to 100 students.

The youth of 1976 rose against this background.

Since then, has the situation changed? Have we eradicated the two-tier education system that gave white students R644 and black students R54? Are schools and other essential infrastructure for learning developed? Have classrooms curbed teacher-to-learner ratio that is conducive to learning?

Basic education today

Unfortunately, the two-tier education system has remained, only this time, it has transitioned from a race barricade to the class barricade. The well-resourced schools, which have retained fee model structure to the exclusion of the working class children, are build for the rich. The poorly-resourced schools that lack infrastructure and basic equipment are bungled by the state for the children of the working class.

For the past five years, treasury has allocated budget increase that are below inflation to the Department of Basic Education (DBE). In real terms, this is a decrease. The average expenditure for the next three years is planned to grow only by 1.6%, way less than the forecasted inflation in the same period.

Despite signing the norms and standards on infrastructure 8 years ago, the underfunding of basic education, in real terms, perpetuates the apartheid crimes of 1976 in the period of liberal-democracy. Schools lack infrastructure, have insufficient learning and teaching material, and are grossly understaffed.

Because of lack of infrastructure and understaffing, many schools cram up to 60 learners in one classroom. Beside its similarities to 1976’s conditions, it is way above their ideal teacher-to-learner ratio of 1:35/1:37 today.

In addition, reports cite that 20 071 of 23 471 schools did not have laboratories in 2018. In the same year, 18 019 did not have library, 16 897 did not have internet, 4 358 used illegal pit latrines, 1 027 did not have parameter fencing and as many as 239 did not have as basic a necessity as electricity.

The effects of these backlogs, amid irregular and wasteful expenditures in the department, manifest in real terms and are adverse.

• Recently, it was reported that an unknown man raped a young woman in school toilets after gaining entry into school through neglected

broken/damaged fence,

• There is no conducive learning in classrooms since overcrowded classrooms are generally uncontrollable,

• School teachers cannot exploit digitalisation for classroom lessons because of lack of or limited access to internet,

• Children have been drowning in pools of faeces in pit latrines at school in rural areas, despite countless promises to eradicate pit latrines in schools,

• Schools or any institution, depends on electricity for almost everything. A school without electricity surely struggle in giving effective learning and

assessment, let alone unconducive environment for educators and staff at those schools,

• In the absence of libraries, effective reading clubs cannot exist and thus compound the serious problem of “reading without understanding”, which

causes massive failure in schools’ lower grades.

In these unconducive learning conditions, young people are opting out of school before reaching matric. Reports puts the rate of this cohort, “drop-outs”, staggeringly, at an estimated high of 40% today.


Not in any form of Education, Employment and Training (NEET)

Because of the problem of high rate of drop-outs in the basic education, the number of those who join the “working-age group” without employment is increasing at an alarming rate. In 2020 alone, 1 017 000 young people joined the working-age group.

In quarter 1 of 2020, there was an addition of 144 000. Combined with those who are financially and academically excluded from the

universities and colleges, the number of young people who are not in any form of employment, education and training has increased dramatically. As of the 1st quarter of 2021, the NEET group has increased to the record over 8.8 million.

Unfortunately, reflective of the education problems of “drop-outs” in basic education and “exclusions” in higher education, only 9.6% of the unemployed have tertiary qualification. 52% (over 3.7 million) of the unemployed have no matric, and 37.7% (2 714 400) have basic matric.

Social crisis of the youth

40 in every 100 of young people who drop out of the basic education system, those who cannot reach universities, and scourged by unemployment, have but limited means of survival. Like those who chose to join the gangsters, Vikings or Hazels, in Soweto 45 years ago, our youth are leading a life of violence and crime to make endmeets. High levels of crime trace their roots nowhere but from the political-economic crisis in this country. 42 cash in transits robberies, 11 579 shoplifting, 9 549 common robberies and 4 513 of carjackings in the 1st quarter of 2021 are a direct result of the alarmingly high number of those NEETs in this country.

Institution of higher learning in particular, have played a catalytic role in society as agents that challenge narrow stereotypes for young people. Most youth gets radicalised in university spaces because of knowledge they access in universities’ libraries and debate forums, both formal and informal. It is in those spaces that many youth admit to have changed their stereotypic prejudices on gender, sex and race.

The exclusion of the overwhelming majority of youth from the higher learning institutions, therefore, is not only disadvantaging them from attaining qualifications that could increase their prospects of employability, but is also holding society back in the backward beliefs and stereotypes of gender, sex, and race that births bigotry and violence.

Hence, the level of violence (relating chiefly to Gender Based Violence) have been high in especially black working class communities. Poverty, chiefly births violence. Aided by backward ideologies, it compound such violence higher levels.

Youth struggles today

In 1985, Oliver Tambo acknowledged that 1976 & 1977 “propelled into the forefront of the struggle millions of young people.”

In 2015/16/17, reckoning that racial inequality still persists, and had now mutated into a sub-category of “class apartheid” (the true expression of a partially deracialised capitalism), waged a battle against the political establishment and higher education institutions as microcosms of an unequal, racially and economically, South Africa.

Few of their victories, which are being reversed today, bear a lesson for the youth: that without uniting with workers and communities like the youth of 1976, the struggle against neoliberalism which perpetuates racial inequalities will not be won.

For SAFTU, the greatest expression of honouring the martyrs of 1976s, is not to explain the crisis of capitalism and ANC rule today through xenophobia or violent crime. Instead, we call on all working class organisations to build working class power to eventually remove the ANC from power, and install a government democratically constituted by workers, youth and communities.

SAFTU salutes the youth of 1976 and rallies the youth of today to join in struggle against neoliberal capitalism that underspends on education, keep the youth out of education, creates no sufficient employment and throw the youth into poverty and violence. In this battle, which has clearly drawn itself as a battle for the minds of the youth, we make no apology for assuming our rightful place for this historic contestation.

The enemies of the working class shamelessly use tendering and patronage to win the bright minds of the youth, whose desperate position of unemployment and culture render them vulnerable; but we use ideas. The youth must invest in intellectual development, take their rightful place in community organisations and the trade union movement.

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