16/06/2017 06:10 SAST | Updated 16/06/2017 06:28 SAST

We Should Pay Tribute To Our Student Leaders On This Youth Day

It is extremely important that we pay tribute to young leaders in South Africa who have played imperative roles in changing our country's future.


If there is something that the Soweto Uprising should teach each and every one of us, is that the most exceptional, passionate and determined leaders come from our youth. On the 16th of June, we will celebrate Youth Day, and I think it is extremely important that we pay tribute to young leaders in South Africa who have played imperative roles in changing our country's future. Whether one agrees or disagrees with movements such as Rhodes Must Fall, End Rape Culture, and Fees Must Fall, one cannot deny the momentum each movement has gained and the effects they have had in South Africa. All of these are a result of a united effort by student leaders and activists to address many social and economic injustices in the country and the lack of action by the government, civil society and other stakeholders to solve these issues.

In the Rhodes Must Fall movement, important points were raised regarding history, colonisation, white supremacy and racism. This created a nationwide debate on the legacies of apartheid and colonialism because the movement was started by students who called for Cecil John Rhodes's statue to be taken down. Moreover, it further raised awareness about the psychological and philosophical impact of colonialism, imperialism and apartheid which not only oppressed black South Africans socially, economically and politically, but it also oppressed them mentally, psychologically and philosophically. Rhodes Must Fall empowered, encouraged and motivated young black students to continue raising issues that affect them and it ultimately led to other movements such as Fees Must Fall to begin and thus, it consequently allowed the ongoing discussions of social injustices to continue.

In the End Rape Culture movement, patriarchy, rape culture and sexism were widely discussed and criticised by the leaders and activists of the movements on various campuses. In fact, the movement gained such momentum that some universities such as Rhodes University were closed for a period of time. The social evils of rape and misogyny were brought up and calls for the dismantling of patriarchal institutions that endorsed and perpetuated rape culture occurred (and are still occurring now). As a result, some universities launched task teams to investigate rape culture on its campuses, and many feminist movements, organisations and leaders began to rise up and take action. Still to this day, many leaders and activists, especially women of colour, feel more empowered to speak their mind and be leaders in their communities regardless of sexist stereotypes and gender norms.

Finally, the Fees Must Fall movement, regarded as the most notorious student movement in post-apartheid South Africa, has generated some of the most exceptional young leaders in the country. The movement initially began as a call to stop the government from increasing fees at tertiary education institutions. The movement gained momentum and thousands of students took part in protests, marches and discussions. Eventually, the movement took an intersectional approach, whereby it wanted the movement to be a space for the most marginalised groups such as black queer women to be empowered as young leaders and allow them to have platforms where they could have voices.

As a result, the movement also focused on decolonising tertiary education, which raised crucial issues regarding the Eurocentric, Westernised education system that South Africa has and the lack of African input and knowledge. Despite the criticisms and backlash, this movement has been able to create brilliant, young black leaders which our country desperately needs. There is no doubt that South Africa has vibrant, young leaders who are mobilising and organising movements to bring about change, change that is desperately needed in our state. Although many have criticised the integrity, credibility and morals of the movements, you cannot deny that the South African youth have been influenced by young freedom fighters of the past who also fought for social and economic emancipation and are now leaders of change in this country.

What has become more apparent than ever, however, is that older South Africans need to listen to these young leaders as they are already taking the roles of leadership in the country. They will continue bringing about a radical transformation in South Africa, whether the older generations like it or not, in order to achieve a state that is truly equal for all.