The change starts today, the change starts with us

19/06/2017 – On June 16th, organisations and groups across South Africa celebrate Youth Day. The day commemorates the Soweto Uprising, which was a series of protests led by black school children during South Africa’s apartheid period.

On June 16, 1976, an estimated 20,000 students taking part in the protests were met with fierce police brutality. It is estimated that up to 700 children were killed. In remembrance of these events, Youth Day is now a public holiday in South Africa.

As part of its Cape Town Safer Communities Programme, Fight for Peace is working in partnership with a number of community organisations in an area called Manenberg, which suffers from especially high levels of gang violence.

Working alongside its local partners, Fight for Peace helped organise a major Youth Day event attended by an estimated 2,000 people, which included sports and games, music, inspirational talks, a jobs and careers expo and even a dog show. The event was opened with a guest address by the South African Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Fatima Chohan, who commended the community on coming together to present a positive alternative to gangs and crime.

Cape Town Safer Communities Programme Lead, Seth Reynolds explained how the collaborative event came about: “One of our partners came to me and asked if we could support a proposed event on Youth Day to commemorate a young girl being shot in gang cross-fire on a particular public space. The idea was to make a statement about reclaiming the space. So we took it to our other partners and everyone agreed to work together across the community to create an event that would send a strong message that the community is taking back these spaces from the gangs and to celebrate all the community’s thousands of young people who choose a different path.”

Community leader, Faldiela de Vries, from Fight for Peace partner Manenberg People’s Centre, affirmed the community’s determination to unite: “This event, which came together in just a few weeks, shows what is possible when the community comes together for a common goal, with everyone playing their part”.

To open the event, one of the People’s Centre’s young leaders, Gershwin Essau, gave an inspirational talk to the hundreds of attendees, leaving a profound message: “Because of the sacrifice of the youth of 1976, we have the freedom to gather at events like this. Now we face other challenges – drugs, gangsterism, poverty. But I decided four years ago to join this project because I don’t want to be in gangsterism. I chose a better way. We the youth are the future of Manenberg, The change starts today. The change starts with us.”