Port Elizabeth — Hundreds of youngsters, government officials and politicians rallied in Port Elizabeth's Wolfson Stadium Saturday to pay tribute to the youth as South Africa marks the 36th anniversary of the 1976 June 16 student uprising.
It was that historic day of 1976 that ushered in a new path of struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa as thousands of black students left class to protest the imposition of Afrikaans in black schools.
Hector Pieterson, a black 13-year-old boy was the first to die in the protest and his death sent shock waves throughout the world and brought attention to the injustice of the South African apartheid regime.
With the challenge of rising unemployment and poverty, it was not surprising to see most of the speeches at today's occasion focusing on strides by both the government and private sector to address the scourge of youth unemployment.
Speaking to a crowd of about 5000 people, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane acknowledged that while government had probably made great strides to address challenges facing the youth, more young people still needed to access economic opportunities.
"Young people need improved access to quality education and skills in order to meaningfully participate in the economy," Chabane said.
He said government had done well to do its part to address the plight of young people but this "however does not discard the role of everyone in society to address the plight of young people".
He said the different government departments were working together to absorb young people who were presented with opportunities either through jobs or skills development.
The Department of Defence and Military Veterans will, through its military skills development programme, recruit over 6 500 young people this year with the figure expected to double in the next two years, said Chabane.
"Through the national youth service programme, 20 000 unemployed youth will be recruited and turned into disciplined and empowered young people." The programme is due to begin next year.
As a contribution to government's fight against poverty, the Department of Environmental Affairs has, through the Expanded Public Works Programme, had placed about 450 young people on its national youth service with 206 to be absorbed by municipalities as part of a training on environmental management.
More than 9000 have undergone skills development training at state-owned enterprises, over 8000 trained through the national rural youth service corps while the department secured an additional R190 million for the National Skills Development Fund which is expected help increase the enrolment of students at FET colleges this year.
Chabane went on to highlight that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme continued to provide higher education opportunities to disadvantaged youth. The fund had grown over the years to provide more than R6 billion in loans and bursaries to needy students in 2011.
The national budget continued to support job creation with a particular focus on unemployed youth.
"Through the prioritisation of infrastructure development, government has already assisted in job creation as it has become one of the biggest employers in the country," said Chabane.
He called on all those debating the mooted youth wage subsidy to remember that "the challenge of youth unemployment is a real issue that required real leadership".
The Treasury has proposed the multi-billion youth wage subsidy as one of the temporary solutions to the issue of youth unemployment.
"We call on all involved in the discussions to discuss the matter in a responsible manner and finalise the discussions so that the process should be taken forward," added Chabane.
The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) Chief Executive Officer Stephen Ngobeni said the generation of 1976 faced a "different enemy".
"Their agenda was a different agenda from ours theirs was a fight for political freedom, ours is a fight for economic freedom, and however their challenge and ours needs to be tackled with the same vigour and energy.
Young people needed to be assured that the struggle of their peers back in 1976 were not in vain, he said.
"The youth of today want an assurance that opportunities will be there for them and that they can realise their full potential, young people are tired of rhetoric," said Ngobeni.