What the Class of 1976 can teach the Class of 2020

Every year, Youth Month presents an opportunity to transform South Africa’s image as a global leader in the fight against poverty and inequality and as an advocate for empowering youth. But, there is the temptation to see what happened on 16 June 1976 as a memory disconnected from our reality, causing us to reminisce without changing our actions.

For brands, there is the risk that without taking the time to listen to the stories of the past or even to their customers, their marketing teams may deliver tone-deaf brand messaging and communications just to tick the social media boxes.

What is the story?

On 16 June 1976, a group of students from Morris Isaacson High School and surrounding high schools in Soweto, Johannesburg planned a peaceful protest against a system that would teach most school subjects in Afrikaans.

The late photojournalist Sam Nzima was covering the march for the newspaper The World, when he captured the iconic image of Hector Pieterson’s lifeless body being carried through the streets of Soweto with Hector’s sister Antoinette by his side. Today, this photograph symbolises the power and importance of this youth uprising and the struggle against Apartheid.

We owe it to the Class of 2020 to share the stories, not to incite hatred, but to help our youth (and ourselves) remember that:

1. Education is still worth fighting for

The Covid-19 lockdown period in South Africa laid bare the stark differences between the resources available to children in the country and to the schools they attend. It’s estimated that only 20% of scholars could continue some form of learning online since 26 March 2020, further exposing a chasmic digital divide.

Brands came to the party and certain learning sites were zero-rated during the time, meaning that students could access them data-free, while the government used public broadcasting channels to bridge the learning gap.

When schools were reopened, many worried that it was too soon, but considering that education is such a hard-fought-for constitutional right, the Department of Education was resolute about making it happen.

It is still too early to say whether schools opened too soon, but this should be all of our problem. Our children’s education affects our society.

2. Equality is still worth fighting for

Towards the end of 1975, the then apartheid government issued an instruction to the Department of Education to teach half of all subjects in standard five in Afrikaans. Parents and schools immediately opposed this instruction and from the beginning of 1976, Soweto schools were in protest leading to the day of the massacre.

Sadly, inequalities still exist today. From the difference between the haves and the have-nots, to the total disregard for the value of the lives of women and children.

Corporate diversity and inclusion expert and part-time Gibs faculty member, Seth Naicker of IndiAfrique, says it is our responsibility to teach our children about their history.

The Soweto uprising caused international revolt and further comprehensive punitive sanctions and that was before the age of globalisation. Just think of the possibilities for our youth to effect change with the platforms available to them.

3. Women still have a voice that needs to be heard

Ask most people which name comes to mind when you mention 16 June and it will most likely be that of 12-year-old Hector Pieterson or of Hastings Ndlovu, the 15-year-old boy believed to be the first to have died that day.

In 2020, we were met with a flood of violent acts against women and girls during and before lockdown. Women need to be heard now more than ever. Yet, in the corporate world, the gender pay gap and glass ceiling are still the daily reality.


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