‘It’s important for kids to live up to the purpose of the day’

Claude Julius was just seven years old when the Soweto uprising took place. But as the founder of Kuils River Youth Development, which fights for youngsters to get on their feet and lead worthwhile lives, he is passionate about ensuring the significance of Youth Day is not lost on today’s youth.

“Many people have lost sight of the real meaning of Youth Day today. It’s not just about the young getting together but about what the youth in 1976 fought for; for freedom – freedom of choice and our culture and for education,” he told Northern News.

“We tend to move away from the real purpose of this all-significant day and I am trying to educate people about what it really stands for and the momentous events that happened on that day, that month, that year,” said Claude.

“It’s important to realise that people died for ideals and kids today need to live up to the purpose of the day.”

It was only when he was in high school that Claude learnt about the implications of June 16 1976.

“But I grew up poor and we had a different struggle to survive. In the ’70s Sarepta was not that developed and where our house was, on the edge of the suburb, there were just dunes. Our fight in the area was to change the gangsterism that was rife there. Many of the youngsters carried weapons.

“When I got to high school then it became more of a political struggle as I got involved in the SRC,” he said.

He adds that for many kids today, Youth Day is only about getting involved in sports events and soccer games and his aim is to continue his fight against the use of drugs and abuse among youth.

“My aim now is to get a database of street children in our area, using Youth Day as the pivotal point and to help these kids get some stability in their lives.”

Maria Mavuso, 19, who lives in Kraaifontein, moved to the Cape a year ago to find work, prior to living in Tembisa, on the East Rand close to Johannesburg.

Tembisa was one of the hot spots when Soweto and other townships were rocked by the tumultuous events that started in June 1976.

A “born free”, she completed her schooling at Tembisa High last year and says her awareness of June 1976 comes from accounts relayed by her parents and her grandmother.

“While my parents were not activists, they were affected by the events there.

“The Soweto uprising spread to the East Rand and my parents told me that during the height of the uprising the area was swamped with police, patrolling the streets. Many of the young were detained and my parents also know of some teenagers who fled the country for fear of arrest and, say my parents, were never heard of again.”

She adds: “For me Youth Day is a time to reflect on what children and teenagers fought for and never forget it.

“It’s important that this day, that shaped our history and the democracy we have become is never forgotten.”

George Churumbi, 26, crossed borders and walked for days through the bush to escape poverty and political hardship in Harare, Zimbabwe, and in his three years here, has experienced the rough end of the stick with xenophobia.

His young family live in Kalkfontein and his ardent hope on Youth Day is that his two toddlers and his cousin, Frances, who is a teenager living with them, grow up free.

“While we grew up with our own problems, I read up a lot about the the history of this country and the Soweto uprising. Many children died for their ideals in 1976 and it’s important for everyone here to remember that discrimination comes in many forms. I have been stigmatised because I come from another country. But I have made this country my home and pray for freedom in all its forms,” he told Northern News.