16 June 1976, a day on which young South African children took action, taking a decisive stand in opposition to the cruel Apartheid regime - a day forever etched into our history.
As memory meanders further away from the events of that day and celebration takes the place of all the suffering that led to that revolution, we ask ourselves anew, why do we celebrate Youth Day in 2021? Why would we set aside an entire day to remember a struggle past when fresh struggles can be found surrounding us every day? I would dare say that is because 16 June does much more than celebrate a certain age group or particular phase in the seasons of our lives. Youth Day celebrates agency itself.
But, what exactly is agency in this context? In social sciences, agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. On 16 June we celebrate our ability to act, to have an opinion and a voice, to associate freely and to take hold of the reigns of our own futures!
It is true that recently freedom is oft not felt due to the death-grip that the pandemic has on our health, economy, and daily lives. South Africa is known as the rape capital of the world as GBV is newly inherited by every generation. Climate change threatens to leave us little land left to fight over and foreign diseases like malaria begin to encroach on our borders as Mother Africa changes with drastic ripple effects. The face of our beautiful and vibrant planet left mangled and neglected by a largely indifferent, older generation and layered on top of that massive youth unemployment and our continued efforts to break the cycle of poverty over our people and you may be forgiven for your doubts.
So why would we celebrate 16 June today? Well, we would because we must. We would because it is in our genetic code to do so. We are a people who simply cannot live under oppression, by any guise, nor are we able to accept the status quo. It is in our DNA to stand up against injustice and to oppose those with ambitions to oppress others. Even though it does not always appear visible, as a nation, we have a history of moving in tandem towards a being truly free and equal. When we are able to see beyond Covid, the corruption and every other crisis trying to divide us, we may still recognise a thread of hope – we still possess our agency. We are not powerless, and the hard-won spaces where we express our opinions and differ from others do still exist for us. Yes, oppression and prejudice have not yet been defeated as they still thrive in the many forms within our economy and our systems of education, but today we celebrate because we do not have to accept this as normal. Today we are not discriminated against simply because of our association, creed or race though should we still experience this we have the present ability to address it.
NTEU celebrates this 16th of June 2021 in memory of all the battles fought to gain and preserve our individual freedoms. We celebrate that we can live in a country where self-determination is not only an option, but it is encouraged and trust that wherever we may find ourselves today that we are able to fully enjoy and experience our hard-won right to agency!
On behalf of the NTEU Team,
NTEU National President
NTEU is a politically non-aligned trade union organizing exclusively in the Higher Education sector and is aligned to FEDUSA, the largest politically non-aligned trade union federation in South Africa.
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