Celebrating Youth Month in the Year of Charlotte Maxeke: Reminding Youth of their Role to Society

June is a national Youth Month in South Africa celebrated on the 16th of June each year. Previously known as the Soweto Day, Youth Day marks the start of the Soweto riots in 1976. Today, this day is celebrated in various forms around the country which sees many South Africans spending Youth Day helping the underprivileged in and around their societies. What does the youth day mean in modern day South Africa and how can the young South African population play a role in this historical day, especially in the year we celebrate Charlotte Maxeke?

The year 2021 marked a historical milestone, that it would be Charlotte Manya-Maxeke’s 150th birthday. Born on the 7th of April 1871 in Limpopo and grew up in the Eastern Cape, Charlotte Maxeke’s history and legacy form part of the South African resistance and liberation heritage of the National Heritage Council. Celebrating the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke has a historical significance to her legacy - that is the cornerstone of the consciousness to the emancipation of women in South Africa and in Africa. In 1908, nine years before Nelson Mandela was born, Charlotte Maxeke and her husband, opened the Wilberforce College in Evaton. A legacy worth celebrating in the resistance and liberation struggle of South African heritage.

What are some of the challenges facing South African Youth?

Unemployment, gender based violence, crime and substance abuse, inequality, poverty, and nonresponsive government to the challenges facing the youth.

What today’s youth can learn from the youth of 1976?

The youth of 1976 were like #DoneWithSilence on issues affecting them like inequality and racism. At this moment they stood up and fought for their rights to get an adequate education. Having said that, the youth of today had showed courage in their fight for #FeesMustFall. But there is something to learn from these two important events. Today’s youth have so much resources at their disposal that can help advance their goals and objective. Determination and courage is what modern day South African youth can learn from the 1976 generation.

Stand up for what you believe in

The youth of 1976 who marched peacefully to Orlando Stadium were tired of living under conditions that deprived them a better future. They did not allow their fears to overcome their courage and stood up to face their challenges. Nelson Mandela once said “make your choices reflect your hopes” and again he said “the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”. Youth cannot afford to be spectators in the affairs of their country which affect their future.


The courage held by the youth of 1976 is a lesson that working together towards a common goal. Youth are more capable of making their voices heard by the world. Sharing the same vision and the willingness to work together, youth are able to meet their goal for ending poverty, unemployment, and basic health care. Nelson Mandela once said “sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom”.

The Right to Access Education

On education Mandela said “Young people must take it upon themselves to ensure that they receive the highest education possible so that what they can represent is well in the future as future leaders”. Part of the children’s bill of right is the right to education. The youth of 1976 believed that the apartheid law did not afford them quality education and they made sure that their voices were heard. Hence their legacy still lives on because woman can also get an education. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the work” Mandela said” and “Education is central to the success of a whole range of other human endeavours”.

Women can be Leaders

Mandela once said “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”. In a year where the country is celebrating and commemorating the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke, this lesson is self-explanatory. Women, and especially young women played a very important role in the success of the youth movement. They took on leadership roles and supportive roles successfully. And if given an opportunity, women can do great wonders. “For every woman and girl violently attached, we reduce our humanity”. On leadership, “I’ve never regarded women as in any way less competent than men”, he further said, “As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure”. Charlotte Maxeke was the only woman who attended and contributed to the first African National Congress conference in 1912.

Your voice matters

“There is no passion to be found playing small”, Mandela once said. The sad reality is that our society makes it hard for us to speak up against the justices that we experience. When raising their voices, youth are more likely to experience criticism, but so did the youth of 1976, and the youth of #FeesMustFall but they knew that their voices were powerful enough to change their situation in South Africa. Today’s youth are faced with poverty, unemployment, gender-based violence and unresponsive government. But their time is now and they must be willing to use these lessons in their efforts to make a difference today. Today’s youth have the ability and means to raise their voices peacefully without the distractive violence approach.

The Nelson Mandela Museum wishes a Happy and Fruitful Youth Day to all the South African Youth and encourages them to participate in the governance affairs of the country. Nelson Mandela once said, “I have learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear”. “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances” this word from Nelson Mandela encourages youth to use their extra ordinary circumstances to become leaders and movers of their own country