June 16 1976 was a landmark day in South Africa’s history. Like the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 stimulated a new global dialogue and mobilized the international community against the Apartheid state, 1976 was a point of inflection in the struggle inside the country. It revealed to South Africans and the world not only the acute inhumanity of the Apartheid project, but the Youth provided a new dimension of the war against what is arguably the cruelest social engineering project in modern history.
Looking back, the narrative is an interesting one. The 1976 project had a short term project objective for the learners, first in Soweto, and then rapidly catching fire in the townships around the country. That was to eradicate the terrible “Bantu Education” system, a grossly unjust and disempowering education system for Blacks, the legacy of which we still have to deal with up to today. On the back of that short term objective, we have seen in the late 1970s into the 1980s, a rapid acceleration and intensity of the fight against Apartheid as the medium term outcome. Even the desperate measures adopted by the state apparatus that included the ‘total onslaught’ campaign could not stem that tide. The long term impact was the achievement of a political democracy in South Africa.
Forty years on we are in the midst of a new student led revolution. The short term objective – reform and the transformation of South Africa’s higher education system. It is high energy, the narrative does not seem completely converged and it’s uncomfortable for many. However this rise of the youth in the 40 anniversary year of 1976 has the real possibility of catalyzing the next stage of our democratic journey, that is, the achievement of the socio-economic revolution. A socio-economic revolution that does not yet have a defined vector. If supported correctly we can help the youth to tailor the socio-economic model for growth based on the fundamentals of a knowledge economy. We have the real opportunity to work toward the longer term impact of an inclusive, diversified, resilient and successful economy. It hinges on what we do today.
The WRC, in recognition of this possibility, and as part of its contribution to the national transformation project is expanding its youth directed activities and programmes. These range from school level interventions with Waterkidz, the SASS and citizen science initiatives to increased support for university students in WRC projects run out of our R&D branch. We have added the further dimension of increased support for innovation and business development in our Innovation and Impact branch under the banner of Youth and Water Entrepreneurship. This is building on already successful efforts of individual support that has resulted in some amazing new solutions and some very encouraging start-ups.
The Youth are indeed the leaders of tomorrow. The character of our partnership with today’s youth will to a very large extent determine the quality and impact of that leadership, and in turn the kind of country the next generations will inherit. We have had the benefit as the current generation of leadership of being able to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. It is time to start making our shoulders available to tomorrow’s leadership – our Youth.
Contact: Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the South African Water Research Commission , email; firstname.lastname@example.org