The youth of 1976 took the lead – Young people must now again lead in ensuring Radical Economic Transformation


By: Carl Niehaus*

Today, 45 years ago young people in Soweto and throughout South Africa, courageously rose up against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and against the oppressive apartheid regime in general. Young people who had no weapons, except for their own fragile bodies and their unyielding and irrepresible will to be free from racist oppression, faced the might of the well-armed and vicious apartheid police and defence force.

What started as a peaceful protest march by students of the Naledi and Morris Isaacson High Schools and Phefeni Junior Secondary, became a massacre when the police of the apartheid regime open fire on the orderly marchers. This massacre was the spark that ignited a powder keg of pent-up resentment and anger against apartheid, that exploded throughout South Africa.

The 1976 revolt against apartheid by the black, and especially African youth, became a critical watershed moment in our long liberation struggle against apartheid. The courage of young people throughout the length and breadth of our country to face up to the terrible repression that was unleashed against them, with the most awful atrocities of beatings, killings and long periods of detention without trial and torture, also emboldened their parents as the older generation to rise in defence of their children, and to fight for their own human dignity.

The shots that rang out in Vilakazi Street and elsewhere in Soweto, and the bullets that killed Hector Pieterson and other courageous young people, tolled the final death knell of apartheid.

In the years that followed the resistance against the oppresive apartheid regime kept on rising throughout our communities. Thousands of young people dedicated to our country!s liberation made huge sacrifices. Many made the highest sacrifice, and paid with their lives. Others were physically and mentally scarred, because of the terrible brutality that the apartheid regime unleashed on them.

Large numbers of young people left their families, went into exile, and joined the people!s liberation army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). They were young people like Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu who got military training, and came back to fight the racist oppressor. The terrrible execution on the 6th of April 1979, by hanging, of Solomon Mahlangu at the tender age of 23 personifies the courage and untold suffering of many thousands more like him. When we sing “lyho Solomon! we remember and honor all of them.

Yes, indeed our liberation was paid for with the broken bodies and blood of thousands and thousands of our people, many of them very young. Our liberation struggle was diverse and multi-pronged. It was fought with dedication by the Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers (MK) who in exile trained in camps throughout Africa and the world, as well as by our ANC leaders such as comrade OR Tambo in the United Nations and in every other international forum possible. However, the most important part of our liberation struggle was always fought in our communities, and in the streets of our townships and the villages throughout South Africa.

What we must always remember is that the price that our people – especially our young people – paid for our liberation was never cheap: IT WAS VERY, VERY EXPENSIVE!
Thus, today, we must ask ourselves the uncompromisingly hard question whether we are doing justice to the huge sacrifices that have been made for our liberation. We must ask ourselves if the African National Congress as the pre-eminent Liberation Movement, behaves in a manner that is truly respectful of those who have carried us this far, through their sacrifices and suffering. As the governing party the ANC is the custodion of the will of our nation, through the democratic mandate that we have been given in election after election. Our people have pinned their hopes for full liberation on the ANC.

Yet, it saddens me deeply to say that I fear that we are failing to honor the trust and hopes of our fellow South Africans. Instead we commit sacrilege, rather than honor the memory of the liberation heroes who have built and secured our people!s trust in us.

# The divisions and selfish factional infighting within the African National Congress is nothing else but the wanton betrayal of the sacrifices and liberation ideals of our liberation heroes and martyrs, and indeed of our people in general!

# The deliberate refusal by some among us to take the neccessary steps to fundamentally transform the prevailing oppresive economic structure, and to throw off the schackles of White Monopoly Capital (WMC) is sacrilege and a treacherous betrayal of their memory!

# The labelling of our people!s hope for Radical Economic Transformation (RET) as “factional!, and to disregard and deliberately refuse to implement the RET Resolutions of the 54th National Conference of the ANC, is indeed betrayal and subjugating our long suffering people – especially our youth – to continuing oppression and exploitation!

# The failure to effectively fight the scourge of corruption, and instead to abuse state resources, and institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), to fight factional political battles is a most cynical betrayal!

On this sacred day in the callendar of our liberation history, I will be derelict as a veteran member of the African National Congress not to address these critical issues. I cannot do anything else but to say: Thus far, and no further. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

We truly cannot allow this to continue. It is high time that we in the African National Congress pull ourselves together, regain our revolutionary heart, and start being the servants of our people again, rather than taking care of our own selfish interests.
As happened in 1976 when the young people of our country stood up, and took the lead in the fight against apartheid, the young people of our nation must now once again show us – the older generation – the way.

I say to young South Africans when we as the older generation, and leaders, fail to secure and build the future that you dream and hope for, do not hesitate to take us on. Please, do not let us off the hook!
Black (and especially African) students have the right to demand of your government to provide free quality education. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it is not ANC policy. It is!
It is all there in the Freedom Charter.

Hector Pieterson, Solomon Mahlangu and many other young people died for it. There is no need to be hesitant, or apologetic. Demand it! It is your right! A right that was bought with the blood of young generations that walked our long march to freedom as pioneers before you.

I say to young black business people, and entrepeneurs, demand fundamental and Radical Economic Transformation, so that you can rise like soaring eagles to the commanding heights of our economy, free from the shackles that White Monopoly Capital (WMC) wants to continue imposing on you into perpetuity.

My fellow young South Africans, all of this and much more, is your birthright! Do not allow anyone to betray you, and sell your right to full and unfettered economic liberation for the proverbial Biblical pot of lentle soup.

You do not only have the right, but it is also your duty to take the lead – like the students of 1976 – to ensure that we now also fight the ultimate and critical battle for the control of our own destiny and economic empowerment.

The longest serving President of the African National Congress, comrade Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo said: $Racial discrimination and South Africa!s economic power, it!s oppression and continuing exploitation of all the black peoples, is the same thing”.

On this 16th of June 2021, we have to say to each other the time has come. Sekunjalo! We dare not hesitate. It is now that we must bring this continuing humiliation and pain of racist economic exploitation to an end. Truly, this can wait no longer, it must be achieved in our lifetime.

History bestows on every new generation a sacred task. The generation of 1976 carried out their task with great courage and sacrifice. This is now our task, and once again the youth must lead us!
Comrade Solomon Mahlangu!s final message to us from the gallows, gives us our marching orders: “Tell my people that I love them and they must continue the struggle, my blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. A LUTA CONTINUA!”


*Ambassador Carl Niehaus is a former member of the NEC of the ANC, former ANC MP, and former ambassador to The Netherlands. He is a member of the NEC of MKMVA, and National Spokesperson of MKMVA.

He wrote this article in his personal capacity.