Youth must reclaim their voice in our democracy – CHIETA CEO


Staff Reporter

THIS year marks the 48th anniversary of the 16 June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, when young people protested against the Bantu Education Act, which enforced Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools, and apartheid laws that oppressed black South Africans.

Yershen Pillay, the Chief Executive Officer of the Chemicals Industries Seta (CHIETA), says the time is ripe for critical reflection 30 years after democracy on what has happened since. “Why have youth who have been so committed to a just cause given way to those with a different outlook on life?”

Therefore, 30 years after democracy, he asks why youth apathy was evident in the 2024 elections, according to the Independent Electoral Commission. Election 2024 was characterised by poor voter turnout, especially among youth. Although 11 million registered, fewer took part in the polls.

Overall, only 58% of registered voters took part in the poll. Why, in the digitally driven 21st century, are youth not exercising their democratic rights as championed and won by the youth of 76?

“Today, one should not ignore the sacrifices of the 1976 youth. But how did their example manifest itself 30 years after the birth of democracy? Instead of action, we have seen youth disengaged from democracy, as shown by the low voter turnout. For instance, according to the IEC, despite the high registration of youth, between five percent and nine percent of registered youth actually voted in many areas,” Pillay said.

He said such inertia must be stopped if we truly wish to honour the memory of the Class of 76.

Admittedly, the youth have raised pressing issues such as unemployment and lack of opportunities, but their voice has been muted. Simply put, we are not making an impact. According to Stats SA, the number of youths not in education, employment, or training (NEET) is approximately 3.4 million, which has remained roughly the same for the last decade.

Pillay said the absence of youth voices in this election raises the question of what can be done to spark a youth renaissance in democratic South Africa.

It is necessary to celebrate the Class of 76 but learn from and emulate them to create the future type of South Africa we want – and deserve.

June 16 taught us that young people have the power and potential to create lasting change. However, the election results remind us of the need to do more to harness the tools of the 21st century for the better.

The iconic image of Hector Petersen looms large over the 16 June celebrations. However, heroes of 76 beyond Petersen, for example, Kagiso Moloi at Krugersdorp, are among many unheralded activists who will have a plaque in his honour at schools as part of an initiative to acknowledge those who stood up to the state for better education.

Why this matters 30 years later is critical to changing how we look back on the past to help shape a better future. June 16 this year must be a time of renewal to leverage and articulate the need for more robust, newer youth voices.

“We cannot be hostage to the alarming unemployment statistics; the time is now for action. What must be done to empower youth? Investment in skills and training is taking place across many levels. Artificial intelligence is used throughout the country to open the learning gates.

“Every youth must have a skill—our commitment to youth development as a training authority on skills development and training. What youth do with the skills they receive is up to them. Ultimately, the youth should lead, and we will support them,” he said.

To date, 9501 youth have benefited from CHIETA’s four SMART Skills Centres in the last six months, with many more SMART Skills Centres still to come. The unemployment crisis makes it imperative to provide access to data resources, tailored training courses, support for Job Seekers, assistance for business start-ups, and growth opportunities for SMMEs.

“Our challenge is for South African institutions to do more to ensure we tackle the growing unemployment headache through tangible solutions in communities where it is most needed. We need to collaborate with urgency and creative solutions,” Pillay said.


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