Mbeki urges youths to honor legacy of Soweto
By Paul Simao
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African youths should fight
the modern-day scourges of crime and corruption just as their
counterparts fought apartheid in the Soweto uprising 30 years
ago, President Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.
Even today, the uprising remains one of the defining
moments of the anti-apartheid movement and a touchstone for the
generation that fought against white minority rule and who
would lead South Africa into the democratic era.
Mbeki, marking Friday’s anniversary in the black township
south of Johannesburg, called on young people to wage their own
battle to strengthen multi-party democracy.
“The youth need to confront those who disrespect our
freedom by abusing other people, robbing, raping, killing and
destroying public and private property,” Mbeki told about
40,000 people in a stadium in Soweto.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of
homicide and rape. Official statistics show there were more
than 18,000 homicides in the year to March 2005.
Mbeki said it was crucial for young people to embrace the
principles of South Africa’s constitution — although he
admitted the country also must work harder to solve problems
particularly affecting youths, such as unemployment and AIDS.
Earlier, Mbeki laid wreaths at the Hector Pieterson
memorial in Soweto. Pieterson was among about two dozen black
high school students killed by white security forces on June
16, 1976, during a march by thousands of teenagers and children
Initially, the protest was directed at the white
government’s insistence that students be taught in Afrikaans,
spoken by the mostly Dutch-descended ruling Afrikaners and seen
then as the language of the oppressor.
Police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing Pieterson
and the others and setting off a wave of national street
marches and demonstrations that received worldwide attention
and increased black opposition to apartheid.
A photo, showing Pieterson dead in the arms of a strapping
young man and Pieterson’s sister by his side, went around the
world and came to symbolize the brutality of apartheid.
An estimated 500 to 600 young protesters are believed to
have been killed by security forces in Soweto alone during the
ensuing six to seven months of protests.
The anniversary is marked every year with a national
holiday, known as Youth Day.
Earlier this week, former South African President Nelson
Mandela said he hoped that young South Africans would remember
and honor the sacrifices of the students who had marched and
bled in the streets of Soweto in 1976.
The 87-year-old Mandela was a political prisoner when the