"We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends."
Mary McLeod Bethune
In June, South Africa observes “Youth Month” in homage to the youth of 1976 who fought for freedom and equality. In remembering these young activists who profoundly changed the socio-political landscape, Norton Rose Fulbright in South Africa is celebrating its young talent who are carrying the mantle for future generations. Each of them carries the responsibility of building our country in deference to those who gave their lives.
The firm actively promotes a culture of respect for each individual and values diversity at all levels. It aspires to creating an environment where everyone can realise their full potential and career ambitions.
Throughout June, a selection of the firm’s “youth” will share how the events of 1976 have shaped them, and the impact they aim to make.
A selection of Norton Rose Fulbright youth in South Africa share their stories
One cold Wednesday morning in June 1976 ...
Joe Lekone (File Clerk, Mining)
Students in Soweto revolted against the compulsory use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools. This is one of the days in history that changed the political landscape of South Africa. “What was meant to be a peaceful march turned into a political battle against the apartheid regime.” South Africa was never the same again. Many lives were destroyed and lost, but it was for the betterment of the future generations.
As we celebrate this month, I wish we could always remember the sacrifices of the then students who fought fearlessly for this freedom we are enjoying today. Remember that “United we stand and divided we fall”. “Amandla, awethu!” meaning Power to the people.
Youth Day matters to me because …
Tiffany Agulhas (Candidate Attorney)
Youth day is important to me because it commemorates the brave and defiant students who protested against oppressive laws passed under the Apartheid regime. It reminds me of how influential the youth can be in effecting the much needed redress in the social, economic and political sphere.
Youth Day inspires me to refrain from remaining oblivious to the injustices and systemic inequalities that surround me and to constantly strive for justice and substantive equality. Furthermore, Youth Day has taught me that, as a member of todays’ youth, I have a responsibility to actively advocate for the vindication of all our human rights as enshrined in our Constitution.
Opportunities. Freedom. Gratitude.
Abongile Swana (Associate)
Youth Day reminds me of all the opportunities at my disposal, which the Hector Petersons of 1976 didn’t have. An opportunity to attend the best schools, the best universities and to receive quality education. Most importantly, the opportunity to become a black female who is not only an attorney, but a maritime attorney at a well renowned international law firm.
Above all, I am immensely grateful to the Youth of 1976 who fought, shed blood and died for the opportunities and freedom that we, as members of the youth of 2019, enjoy today.
“We are because of them.”
Aluta Continua “the struggle continues”
Kelsey Pailman (Candidate attorney)
June 16th is a time of reflection and a call to action. It is a time where we realise that our society is better off than what it was, but still can be better than what it is. It is a call to bravery and courage as we continue to build and transform our country. It is a means of honouring the heroes of our past, and becoming the heroes of our future.
Today, Aluta Continua ‘the struggle continues’. As a recent alumna of the University of Cape Town, I have witnessed the rise of student movements and the plight of youth across the country against the commodification of a basic right: education. My days at the law faculty also made me realise the importance of legal education in our country. While law was used as a tool of oppression in the past, it is now a means of healing societal divisions.
I am born of the fearless youth
Boitumelo Ramokgopa (Candidate Attorney)
Freedom! Rights! Choice! Imagine being a young person but restricted to be young, have your movements restricted, little or no choices to make instead you forced almost at all instances to behave in a certain manner and have no freedom of speech to express yourself because to begin with you are taught in schools in a language meant to deliver you to slavery in serving the masters, no freedom of association to make friends and learn from others because of the spatial acts, ultimately no freedom to be youth! I listened to the stories told of young people that refused to be confined to the atrocities of the time, the warrior young men and women who braved death as a generational mission so we could live in a different South Africa.
I am free to be who I want today, be wherever I can get to, associate and make friends with anyone in the country across racial lines, attended schools of my choice (well parents influenced) and ultimately be young with freedom, rights and choices! Something the older generations paid a hefty price for us. I today choose meaningful contribution towards the betterment of the country through law which was used as a tool to oppress, deprive and in worst cases kill young people at some stage in the history of our country.
A longing to be educated in order to gain knowledge
Olwethu Lolo Mhaga
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced.”
June 16 in South Africa is commemorated not as a day of jubilation, much like our Freedom Day that is a reminder of the day Democracy was truly extended to all through the right of the ballot. Rather, Youth Day is a reminder of a day when the State turned against its young for asserting their right to be taught in a language they could understand. That day’s impact in 1976 reverberated around the world, striking at its conscience with the picture of Mbuyisa Makhubo holding Hector Pieterson’s body alongside his distressed sister, Antoinette, searing its way into the minds of ordinary people all around the globe. It became and has become one of the iconic pictures of the Struggle for liberation and freedom
Ultimately, at the heart of the desire of the student who marched in Soweto on June 16 1976, was a longing to be educated in order to gain knowledge, improve their condition and build a better tomorrow. This is a desire that continues to reverberate in the core of the youth of today who cry “fees must fall” as a charge to building a society where one’s family’s wealth does not determine one’s access to education.
With opportunities come great responsibilities
Purnel Gangiah (Associate)
The youth of 16 June 1976 fearlessly and courageously fought for their rights. As a result of their sacrifice, young people today are extremely blessed with many opportunities that are available to them. It is because of the struggle of the previous generations that we can today enjoy the right to freedom.
This uphill battle has allowed people of different ages, genders and races to co-exist and strive towards unity. If I reflect on my own life, I have the opportunity to work in an international law firm with the values of Quality, Integrity and Unity. The June 16 uprising has taught me to be fearless in the pursuit of my dreams, to break down barriers and to never give up, regardless of the challenges that lie ahead. The resilience of the youth of 1976 has demonstrated that, when people stand together, they can make a difference. Each generation has a rippling effect on the next. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.
In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I personally want to strive towards assisting the youth to become the best versions of themselves by helping the less fortunate and assisting others to unlock their true potential. Years from now, I want to look back and know that I made a difference.
A dark mark on our country’s history
Sentebale Makara (Senior associate)
It was in 1953 that the Union of South Africa passed the Bantu Education Act. This, in effect, racially segregated all education facilities. I recall, in a history class not so long ago, hearing the words of the Prime Minister at the time, Hendrik Verwoerd, that “Natives must be taught equality with Europeans is not for them”.
I remember attending the bioscope with my brother at the old library in Mbekweni Paarl to watch the biopic Cry Freedom about the friendship of journalist Donald Woods and Bantu Steve Biko during a turbulent time. The end scenes of this movie depicted the build-up and events of the 1976 uprising -
Today, as I sit in a Sandton air-conditioned office building, working in a career of my own choosing, I am reminded by the class of 1976 that I have had the opportunity and honour to study at the best institutions and whenever I have elected to knock on a door of opportunity, such door has been opened for me. I have had the privilege, as a young lawyer, to learn and be an apprentice to some of the greatest legal minds in our country. I need not think far on what 1976 means to me - in the interactions and conversations with comrades and family members I take account of the fact that I am part of that joint project to achieve an equal, fair and just society.
In our country, a brick was once used as a weapon to fight the oppressive apartheid regime. It is now up to our generation to pick up the bricks, rebuild our beloved country and let it cry no more.
Aluta continua, Mzansi!
Being a youth in South Africa (a youth of 25 years itself) 2019 is a privilege, a privilege that was fought for by the youth of 1976. It’s not the only privilege I have - my privilege stems from being born in a white, well-off family and having had the opportunities that this privilege automatically afforded me (including attending a private school and university, having access to the networks these provided and not being burdened with debt).
The 1976 uprising and the impact it had on dismantling the legal framework and state apparatus of apartheid that had denied black people access to the same opportunities afforded to white people, has opened up a dizzying array of opportunities for the youth of 2019. For me, youth day is about celebrating how far we, as a nascent nation, have come. We cannot forget that access to opportunities remains limited for the vast majority of our population, and will continue to be so for as long as the playing field remains unequal. We need to be aware of, and confront what our own privilege means, before we can put that privilege to work to dismantle South Africa’s persisting structural inequality.
This is the struggle that we face as the youth of 2019. It is a struggle that we must fight with the passion and strength of those who came before us (as we have so successfully done in the “fees must fall” protests), so that we too may create a better future for our children.