DA leader Mmusi Maimane took the opportunity to point out the government's "disregard" for the youth at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto, Johannesburg, on Friday, ahead of Youth Day on Saturday.
Maimane compared the struggles of the children who marched in the township 42 years ago to protest against being taught in Afrikaans, to those currently facing the youth.
"If there is one lesson we can learn from 1976, it's that any change you want to see has to come from you," he said.
"By now you must know that this government is not going to improve your prospects in life. This government is not going to suddenly turn thousands of dysfunctional schools around and improve the quality of teaching. If that was their plan, they would have done so already."
Maimane mentioned education and employment statistics to support his point.
"Four out of five children in Grade 4 cannot comprehend what they read. How must these children complete the rest of their grades and one day enter the world of work?" he asked.
High youth unemployment
"This education inequality will drag them down for the rest of their lives."
Two thirds of South Africans under the age of 24 cannot find work and many of them eventually give up looking, he said. The 27% unemployment only includes people who are actively searching for jobs, he added.
"Once we include those who have given up, this number shoots up to almost 37%," Maimane said.
"That is the future that young people in South Africa must face. And thanks to our education system, which is consistently ranked among the worst in the world, most of these people are very poorly prepared to step into that future and make it their own."
He encouraged the youth to learn from the class of 1976 and to take matters into their own hands.
"If you've come to realise that this government won't fight for your future, then you can stand up to them. But this isn't 1976. You don't have to face their bullets. You can take the fight to them at the ballot box," Maimane said.
"That generation back then fought for freedom and for a better life. This generation today must continue this fight by using those freedoms to improve their lives."