Our present-day struggles might differ from the youth of 1976, but they require similar qualities (bravery, resolve, and sacrifice)
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the June 16 Soweto Uprising of 1976. A day which is said to have changed the face of South Africa’s history forever. Through the uprising, the brave youngsters of 1976 set-off a series of events that eventually contributed to the toppling of a repressive regime.
I often wonder about the personal stories surrounding that day. I think about what it took to get those young men and women – mainly teenagers – to even consider peacefully protesting the violent giant that was the Apartheid government. I consider myself at sixteen and wonder how it would have felt leaving home that morning, knowing that by 9 am I would be taking unprecedented action for something I believed in. I imagine the cocktail of passion, fear, determination, and anger swirling in their hearts, but the desire to see change spurring them on.
The bravery, resolve, and sacrifice of these young people changed the course of our history. Although our present-day struggles are vastly different from theirs, they require similar qualities from today’s youth.
South Africa currently has a number of challenges that inhibit a prosperous country for all. As stated in the National Planning Commission’s Diagnostic Report of 2011 our challenges include – amongst others: 1) too few people working; 2) infrastructure being poorly located, inadequate and under-maintained; 3) legacy spatial planning creating a barrier for inclusive growth; 4) inequitable access to basic services; 5) challenges in the access to quality education for previously disadvantaged communities and 6) an under capacitated public health system. Even worse, the Covid-19 pandemic has also heavily amplified these challenges that we face as a country.
Although we face an uphill battle, I believe that the role of each young person in the country is to find their own little pocket in our society and serve passionately in it. To use our respective talents to help build a better future for ourselves and for the nation at large. The nature of activism required may be very different from that of 1976, but we have to tap into the same passion, bravery, resolve, and sacrifice to creating inclusive growth, prosperity, and improvements in the quality of life for all.
I personally became an engineer because I wanted to contribute to building a country that ensures dignity and a prosperous life for its people. I wanted to do my part in making a tangible difference directly in people’s lives. Consulting engineering creates a platform for one to – literally – build the future of this country and contribute directly to making a real difference in people’s lives.
What’s more, according to the South African Economic Restructuring and Recovery Plan for us to deal with our present-day challenges of inequality, unemployment, and poverty, our first priority intervention is Infrastructure, Investment and Delivery. The plan emphasises that “Infrastructure investment, delivery and maintenance will play a leading role in South Africa’s reconstruction and recovery. A large-scale infrastructure programme will boost aggregate demand, assist in reviving the construction industry and contribute to employment creation”. Now more than ever, the role of young people in consulting engineering is becoming pivotal in effecting change on both a micro and macro scale, for the future of the country.
I am personally thankful for being a part of the change, through my work. I am thankful for the opportunity to work in teams that have been instrumental in the delivery of housing and basic services for tens of thousands of people in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
Our careers in consulting engineering transcend personal ambition. They have the potential to change the course of South Africa’s future, to provide dignity for families and opportunities for people to create better lives for themselves and their loved ones, to build the country’s economy, and to ensure equitable prosperity.
I therefore urge all the young people in the industry to be inspired by the class of 1976, to realize that you have it in you to build a better South Africa and to continue your journey with passion, bravery, resolve, and sacrifice. To those interested in joining the industry, I encourage you to pursue the interest. The work is rewarding, and possibilities are endless. Happy Youth Month and Happy Youth Day – 16th June 2021.
Vusi Baleni, Pr Eng
Civil Engineer and Project Manager
Real Estate: Property Development Services