The events of 1976, without a doubt, forged a new generation of determined young people who had lost patience with a system which deprived them of dignity, equality and freedom. Youth Day should be a reminder to today’s young people of that determination – the determination to take responsibility for the kind of future which the Constitution envisaged. As such, Youth Day should be a day of reflection for every young person in South Africa. It should be a moment to think about the future of our nation – a future in which the success of our democracy will depend on every young person’s appreciation, respect and promotion of our constitutional values, rights and principles. Youth Day must also be about the role and responsibility of every young person in our constitutional democracy. It should be about their obligation to foster mutual respect, nation building and a society based on human dignity, the achievement of equality, respect for human rights and freedoms, non-sexism and non-racialism. Youth Day must be about the kind of country and society in which they want to live 20 years from now.

The rights of young people – as with every other person in South Africa – are recognized and protected by our Constitution. It is true that on the one hand, some of these rights are not necessarily being realised and protected (for instance access to quality education, access to employment opportunities and violence committed against children). On the other, however, young people are often guilty of violating the rights of one another, regardless of the responsibility to promote our Bill of Rights. Reported cases of bullying in schools, sexual offences committed by young people and the continuation of initiation practices by learners and students at schools and universities in total disregard of human rights and human dignity (often under the banner of culture and tradition), are some examples.

In more ways than one, the young people of South Africa are equally responsible for the society they live in today, but more so for the society they will have to live in tomorrow. Unless they want to continue blaming custom and convention, the youth of South Africa should be setting new norms and standards – guided by a human rights value framework – for future generations. They should stand up for a country united in its diversity, in which people treat each other with dignity and fairness and wherein the values enshrined in our Constitution become the personal values that guide the decisions, actions and convictions of each person in South Africa. The future is in the hands of the youth and Youth Day should be their reminder.

Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights


[Photo credit: adopt a negotiator / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) ]

{phocadownload view=file|id=337|text=Download the PDF|target=s}