Youth Month – the focus is on you

Youth Month 2016 commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Students’ Uprising. How will you mark it? #youthday #youthmonth

Youth Month has grown out of the original single-day focus on youth, when we commemorate the 1976 Students’ Uprising, on June 16

Here’s a look at how we can both celebrate and commemorate the events that played such a large part in gaining the freedom we enjoy as youth today.

There are many ways in which we celebrate Youth Month in South Africa. The government has announced plenty of events across the country, ranging from memorials to lectures to concerts. Private organisations are doing similar things.

So why is there all this attention on youth at this time of year?

Obviously it’s all centred around Youth Day itself, on 16 June. This commemorates the 1976 Students’ Uprising, most visibly associated with the famous picture of Hector Pieterson.

So there is a good deal of gravity to the focus, and an emphasis on the freedoms that have since been won for the youth of the country, as well as on the lessons that have been learned and the values that we all want our society to be based on, now and in the future.

The students who risked their lives in the Students’ Uprising were protesting against being forced to receive their education in Afrikaans. Of course this issue was just one aspect of a broader system of oppression, which is ultimately why they were marching in Soweto on that day in 1976.

The peaceful protest turned violent, resulting in death and injury, and sparking much wider and intensified action. Youth Day, by commemorating these events, reminds us of the price that a previous generation of people our age – and even younger – paid for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Probably the most important thing we can do to mark Youth Month is to remember the events of 1976, and acknowledge the brave and principled stand that the youth took.

We should also learn lessons from them – for instance, that although we have rights, we should not take them for granted; they were hard-earned.

It doesn’t have to be all about sombre reflection though. We should also celebrate our freedom – and the mere fact that we are young. It is, after all, a time of our lives brimming with potential, when the world lies open before us. So we should enjoy ourselves during Youth Month – attending concerts and participating in other social events.

If you’re wanting to mark Youth Day or do something to participate in Youth Month this year, we’ve collected some ideas for you.

Those of you in Cape Town can take part in the Miles For Smiles Beach Walk on 16 June, organised by Operation Smile.

Music lovers can head for the Silver Mountain Music Festival, which runs from 16 to 19 June in the Langeberg Mountains.

At the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg there will be a full programme of classical music for those so inclined.

For those wanting a more immediate experience, the Metro Walk in Soweto allows participants to retrace the steps of the youth on that fateful day in 1976.