Is Youth Day really worth celebrating?

A photograph of 6 dark figures standing by the sunset

Annually, the 16th of June marks a national South African celebration known as Youth Day. It is a commemoration of the youth that suffered during the apartheid regime. It is a day in which we reflect on the massacre of school children during the Soweto Uprising of 1976. These children were killed, due to the fact that they were protesting against being forced to learn in Afrikaans ( which was seen as the “language of the oppressor” ). Youth day acts as both a reminder of South Africa’s brutal past but also a lantern of hope for our current youth. It is meant to act as a celebration of our current youth by highlighting their accomplishments and importance, but in a country stricken with countless problems that pose consistent threats against the progress of our youth, the question remains if this holiday is still worth celebrating. 

Usually, I post an excerpt on all my social media platforms commemorating youth day but this year, I did not post anything in commemoration of Youth Day. On the 15th of June 2023, I spent a day working at one of South Africa’s leading youth organizations, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. They work to provide opportunities to unemployed South African Youth by training them further and equipping them with skills to tackle the work environment. As I was on a tour through the office headquarters and saw all the training sessions taking place, It dawned on me that South African youth were truly suffering. South Africa’s high unemployment rate of 32,9% is only one of the many issues that plague the nation. South Africa is also a hub for crime, as it is rated as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Unemployed youth often turn to crime as a means of survival, in a harsh and unforgiving economy. Car hijackings, smash and grabs, petty theft and house break-in’s are extremely common. The country also struggles with extremely high rates of gender based violence and human trafficking. It is estimated that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime, with only 1 out of 9 cases being reported. South Africa also battles an enormous social problem, with substance abuse on the rise - with alcohol, marijauna, cocaine, tik and heroin being the most frequently used substances in the country, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group ( SADAG). High School students are also struggling to gain admission to tertiary institutions, as only 200,000 first-year students were admitted to public SA universities this year — less than a quarter of the applications received in 2022. 

Possibly the most saddening aspect of these issues is the fact that they are mostly affecting the youth. These crimes are often committed by young men, while young women are often the victims of rape and sex trafficking. Young people are widely responsible for the country’s rising rates of substance abuse and young people are the largest demographic that are unable to secure employment. Even amidst all these issues, the South African government is not doing its part in providing solutions. Funds meant to go towards the youth are mismanaged and squandered, due to the severe corruption that exists within the South African government.

In light of all these issues that affect South African youth, it is really worth posing the question if Youth Day is still worth celebrating. The honest truth is, the quality of life for black youth has not significantly improved after apartheid. Squatter camps are growing larger and the margins of social and economic equality have only spread wider. 

Youth Day should serve as a reminder of the great distance that the country has to travel, in order to create an environment that promotes youth development. The youth are the future of the nation, this makes them a precious asset to South Africa and they should be treated as such. 


Statistics South Africa -  
Sexual violence in South Africa -

It is the youth of today that will be responsible for shaping our future
South Africa