Every year in South Africa, the month of June brings mixed feelings about 16 June, the day that the youth of 1976 took to the streets to protest against an oppressive, racist system, and for equal education for all. There are feelings of pride that South Africa is where it is because of the contribution made by the youth. However, there is also pain and questioning around why such an atrocity had to happen to young people in order for change to happen. The day is commemorated in different ways every year. 2020 however brings something different.
At a time where we would be commemorating and celebrating the 16th day of June with concerts and trips to memorial sites, South Africa is faced with an enemy that does not allow for the usual celebrations. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only placed a dark cloud on social interactions and daily activities, it has also put a strain on the youth and employment. Statistics South Africa’s most recent quarterly labour force survey put the country’s youth unemployment rate at 58.1% in the last quarter of 2019, up by 3.4% from the previous year. The pandemic threatens the plans made to improve the youth unemployment rate, as many industries were forced to stop operations due to the virus, and the lockdown regulations.
The irony lies in the fact that in the month intended to shine a spotlight on the youth and their achievements, they seem to face a bleak future due to the effects of COVID-19, which have resulted in drawn-out suspension of educational activities, loss of jobs, and fears regarding the overall health of the nation.
However, all is not lost, the move to level 3 of the lockdown, has opened up opportunities with increased activity and movement being permitted. How we make use of and handle these opportunities will either have a positive or negative impact on all of us, the choice is ours. The challenges brought on by COVID-19 and its effects, call for creativity on the part of all South African’s in moving the country forward.
It is therefore important that we, as a country, do everything we can in order to rid ourselves of this enemy and to recover from its effects. Lockdown level 3 has given us many of the privileges that we have longed for since lockdown level 5. The country is now at the point where many industries have begun operating, and although this means we are heading in a positive direction, we still have a long way to go.
While it will prove to be difficult to celebrate Youth Day as usual, Covid-19 has provided an opportunity to pay tribute to the youth of 1976 by using tools we have at our disposal; the various online platforms, focusing on advocacy, and honouring them through our own fight and determination for the health and economic freedom of our country.
In a way, COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to truly reflect on what the youth were fighting for and where we are as a country today. South African youth can also reflect on how they can take the fight forward in a way that resonates with our generation. The country will look back on this time, and realise how resilient and powerful we are as a nation, but only if people work together.