Johannesburg — Sowetans braved the cold weather to gather at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West in remembrance of the youth of 1976 who declared to the world that enough was enough with racial oppression and apartheid rule.
On that day in 1976 the government and the police were caught off guard, when the simmering bubble of anger of schoolchildren finally burst, releasing an intensity of emotion that the police controlled in the only manner they knew how: with ruthless aggression. Hundreds were killed while others were injured in the clash.
Today, 36 years later, scores of people mostly dressed in school uniforms chanted freedom songs as Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and Mayor Parks Tau laid the wreath at the memorial this morning.
Speaking at the memorial, Mokonyane said the 1976 events will forever immortalise the role and contribution of the youth struggle in the country.
Acknowledging the challenges that youth of today face such as unemployment, the premier said the fact that there is a non-racial education system today is a victory for the youth of 1976.
She called on the youth to take charge of their constitutional rights and become active agents for socio-economic change.
"Youth potential is limitless... they must be active in building their communities and take full advantage of available opportunities."
Mayor Tau recommitted that the city remains committed to work with young people to promote social cohesion and contribute towards nation-building.
He urged the youth to use the day to reflect and plan for today's challenges and use the opportunities, such as education and skills development that government has made available for the youth.
Tsietsi Mashinini's brother Mpho said the team of 1976 are remembered as heroes who fought for the liberation of the country. Mashinini was one of the student leaders in 1976.
Some of the youth which BuaNews spoke to at the wreath-laying ceremony said the day is a minder of how far we have come as a country. "Today we look back so we can look forward. It's because of this day in 1976 that as youth today we are able to dream," said Mbali Khumalo.
While some acknowledged how far South Africans have come as a country, they expressed concerned about youth challenges today such as unemployment, the state of education in townships schools and youth opportunities.
Nkosinathi Ntshangase said youth day commemoration for him was not about what you do today, rather what one does to improve their own life and that of the greater South Africa.
"We can praise Hector Pieterson and Mashinini today but if you are not taking advantage of the opportunities granted by our democracy, then their blood washed in vain," he said, encouraging youth to stand up and define their future.
The official youth programme will move to Mofolo Park, also in Soweto where a sizzling line-up featuring the likes of Zahara HHP and Mi Casa will beat the winter chill.
There Mokonyane will deliver her official speech which according to her office will emphasize the implementation of the Gauteng Integrated Youth Development Strategy by all provincial departments, municipalities and the private sector.
Exhibition stalls have also been set up; where young people will be able to get information about opportunities that exist for them. In addition, the Home Affairs Department will be there for those who would like to apply for identity documents, and the Department of Health will man stalls where health checks can be done.
Entrance to the event is free.