As we commemorate the 1976 student uprisings, the socio-economic climate faced by the youth has gained considerable attention over the past year. Reflecting the hopes of the past, students in taking to the streets highlighted their frustration with the level of unemployment, the standard of education, and questioned the lack of equal access to a better standard of living within the country.
While many draw a comparison between the struggles faced by the youth under apartheid and the challenges faced today, others view June 16 as a mere public holiday.
‘It’s is vital to educate the youth about the uprisings’
Part-time teacher at Darun Naim and member of MSA high school Zakariya Harneker explained that it is vital that youth of today be reminded about the events of 1976, since it is part of our legacy both as South Africans and Muslims.
“The events were really important, since the youth took a stance against what was termed Bantu education; an inferior form of education that served to ‘dumb-down’ the nation,” Harneker said.
He said that Soweto uprisings showed the strength in the mobilization of the youth, further noting that youth of today should reflect on how education has improved since the fall of Apartheid and how the youth is able to assist in improving education within the South African context.
“It is one of the highest objectives of the maqasid (objectives) of the shariah (Islamic law) is the protection of the aql (intellect), [indicating that] education is integral to our shariah,” Harneker added.
‘Hector Peterson’s photo represents June 16’
Former student activist Insaaf Isaacs explained that the image of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying 13 year-old Hector Peterson is largely what June 16 represents.
She said that while the view that South Africa should “move on” from the 1976 events emerges in social media, the context of the iconic photograph is often forgotten.
Isaacs added that the events altered the image of Soweto from a township to a place that symbolized a change in Apartheid discourse.
She further noted that the systematic oppression levelled toward the victims of the Apartheid system is not restricted to the empowerment of the National Party. Instead, she says, the oppression extends back to the 19th and early 20th century when the British relocated people of colour under a false pretext.
“This early separation was reinforced by laws, such as the Native Land Act of 1915, which divided South Africa in its entirety and reserved 90 per cent of the land for a minority then white population…What we refer to as the Cape Flats became the designated place for the non-white labour force.”
Isaacs said while things have improved at certain levels, the struggle for improved access to quality education continues, which she asserts is a prerequisite to obtaining secure employment.
“The rising cost of education has left students with an unpayable debt and little chance of finding a job.”
Meanwhile, Member of the Neo Youth Foundation Ahmat Solomon says that in light of historic events, youth today have not gained adequate access to education that can assist them to both apply for jobs that can pull them out of poverty.
He said that many youngest appear to be disillusioned by the socio-economic climate found within the country, which further increases their lack of motivation to grow into constructive members of society.
“This pushes them to turn to other things. We must, therefore, think of ways to encourage them to work toward some form of employment and empowerment,” Solomon noted.
How should we as Muslims reconcile the manner in which students have displayed their dissatisfaction?
Harneker said that while he physically took part in the student protests that broke out in 2015, he does not agree with and is unable to relate to the carnage that accompanied them.
“I came from a position of privilege. So from where I stand, I do not agree with the destruction because it just makes our task harder.”
He said that those who stand on the fringe of protest action, not affecting the direction of the cause, are easily able to side-line themselves when protests become destructive. He, therefore, encourages Muslims to take to the front line and affect positive change to the manner in which protests are conducted.
Harneker further noted that it is vital to understand the reasons for the dissatisfaction amongst the youth.
He said that the state of the education system coupled with the economic climate exacerbates the level of dissatisfaction that has been voiced in the past year.
“Education is inaccessible. At the University of Cape Town, your fees are going to be more than R45000 annually, which is not affordable for the average family.”
‘Muslims should get involved’
While many communities on the Cape Flats are ravaged with poverty, Harneker said that the Muslim community in general remains disconnected from the reality in lower income households. Muslims are, therefore, unable to relate to the frustration that exists in these communities.
He added that Muslims within South Africa need to identify with the issues that are faced by the millions who find themselves in dire need and who are unable to afford adequate education.
“We should go out of our homes, see what’s happening in the world, and see the frustration so that we can live as brethren with other people in our country.”
He said that the current level of economic inequality translates to employment inequality that only perpetuates further social division.
“As Muslims, we should be front-runners for fighting for justice, education, economic freedom, and the upliftment of our people. That’s what our religion encourages us to do. Allah says that He will be in the servitude of His slave as long as his slave is in the servitude of his brother,” Harneker continued.
What is ‘white privilege’?
Isaacs describes the obvious wealth gap that exists both within South Africa and abroad.
She said that the economic inequalities is likely to result is serious damage in coming decades, which she says was indicative in the 2011 Tahrir Square uprisings in Egypt.
“While there is a correlation between privilege and race, we cannot pretend that this dynamic is shifting; we should focus on access and redress for everyone.”
Isaacs, therefore, urged decision makers within the country to work at ground level in order to find viable solutions to the current socio-economic crisis.
For more information about the Neo Youth Foundation and to get involved, contact: www.nyf.co.za