June 16 is celebrated as an iconic turning point in South Africaâ€™s history. This yearÂ marks nearly 40 years since students in Soweto were gunned down by the apartheid police for protesting against Bantu Education and Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. About 176 students died that day, but has what they fought for become a reality?
The Cape Flats has become synonymous with youth living in violent communities. While the class of â€™76 took on a battle against the apartheid government, the class of 2015 has its own challenges to face. RAâ€™EESA PATHER photographed five top matric achievers around the Cape Flats, who are defying the legacy of apartheid to take back their communities â€“ and their futures.
Lutho Valeni, 16, Philippi High School, Philippi
Being at school is not that much different to being at home. The teachers are myÂ mothers and my fathers â€“ the same like the ones I have at home. They care aboutÂ the learners â€“ they give us that love as parents.
Both my parents are unemployed. I live in the backyard of another home with myÂ sister. It makes me push hard so that I can be able to take my family from theÂ backyard, so that my sister can be the owner of a proper house other than aÂ shack.
Being a student living in a shack, we are not different from any student thatâ€™sÂ living in a proper building. Itâ€™s just a home, but you have to improve so that youÂ can be able to take your family out of the shack.
I have that understanding that aÂ school and education is the key for life. I see education as a way to get out of theÂ township. I want to leave Philippi, but I want to work here as a doctor when I amÂ able.
On 6 March we protested for betterÂ infrastructure. It reminded me of that day of youth, 16 June, 1976. I thoughtÂ about those who fought for us for many years, and it made me afraid, becauseÂ most of the children were injured. In that protest we did nothing, as they didÂ nothing during the protest in 1976, but the police responded with violence.
For us, as students of Philippi High, I can say that the democracy is not fair to us.Â Thereâ€™s a school that was renovated last year near Mitchellâ€™s Plain. When I saw it,Â I thought, â€œWow, those buildings are going to be ours.â€ But after time, I saw thatÂ that building is not for us; itâ€™s for a primary school from Mitchellâ€™s Plain.
WeÂ were shocked: as Philippi High, we are passing with great marks, and inÂ our district we are ranked second highest; then the government chose to build aÂ good infrastructure for those learners and not us.
Zaidah Hoosain, 17, Spine Road High School, Mitchellâ€™s Plain
English is one of my favourite subjects. I love Shakespeareâ€™s books. Macbeth isÂ my favourite. In the beginning, heâ€™s this hero and then in the end he becomes thisÂ person that makes me wonder how I ever looked up to him.
I feel like thereâ€™sÂ many people like that in the world. You look at them and when you finally get toÂ know them, you realise that you need a new role model.
He reminds me of myÂ father.Â My father has this drug addiction since before I was born. My mom and my dadÂ got married when my sister was born, and while she was still young, he left.Â Afterwards, my mom realised what his problem is. Heâ€™ll come home and thenÂ heâ€™s okay, but afterwards heâ€™ll be this whole different person.
My mother keepsÂ me strong â€“ sheâ€™s such a strong woman. I know Iâ€™m hurt by his addiction, andÂ sheâ€™s human so she has to be hurt by it. But at the end of every year we have anÂ awards ceremony at school and when she sits in the crowd I can see sheâ€™s proudÂ to be my mother.
A while ago, my mom had a crÃ¨che and Iâ€™d play with the children and tell themÂ Iâ€™m the teacher. I knew I had a passion with children. In my area there would beÂ children sick and I always thought the clinic is so far away, and I could help in myÂ community, so I combined my two passions. I want to go into paediatrics inÂ medicine. I know how it is not to have, so if I have just a small bit, then maybe IÂ can share it with my community.
South Africa can do a lot better than we are now. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s just my area,Â but I believe in equality, so if our government was actually thinking about othersÂ I donâ€™t think crime or poverty would be so bad. If equality was instilled byÂ everyone, then everyone should feel it, not just a certain class.
In my room, I have this window, and when all my friends come visit I ask, â€œDoÂ you want to watch DStv?â€, and Iâ€™ll just open my window. Youâ€™ll find peopleÂ fighting and neighbours are playing music for the entire area to hear, and then allÂ of a sudden, youâ€™ll hear gangsters shooting.
I live on a corner, so the one groupÂ stands on my corner and the other stands at the other corner and then they fight.Â Iâ€™ve become used to it, so it doesnâ€™t distract me too much when I study, but itÂ motivates me to get out of here and thatâ€™s why I work so hard.
Youth Day is really important because it shows youth have the most impact.Â Nowadays, teenagers are getting pregnant and having children when they areÂ still children themselves. Itâ€™s a cycle.
I think everyone now whoâ€™s working asÂ hard as I am to become something are also having an impact. But itâ€™s such a smallÂ portion of young people who are working towards something. Most of theÂ gangsters in my area are people who are 14 or 15.
Namhla Juqu, 17, Centre of Science and Technology, Khayelitsha
One of my biggest dreams is to initiate a book club for learners in Khayelitsha.
My school has taught me to understand Khayelitsha better, because at school,Â you start to understand why is it that people resort to violence, and why is it thatÂ we see more abuse.
If you look at that, then you start thinking about how youÂ can address those problems. If you want to transform a bad situation you shouldÂ first transform the minds of the people.
One of the major ways to approach such problems is through reading. It givesÂ you a different perspective to how you see things.
You find most people inÂ Khayelitsha, when they face a problem, they resort to crime. Whatâ€™s leading theseÂ people to end up being criminals? Itâ€™s not only the fact they poor: there are a lot ofÂ factors that influence the becoming of an individual and as people we need toÂ realise that.
I feel that if we want to improve Khayelitsha, itâ€™s not a matter ofÂ getting learners educated, but itâ€™s matter of changing how they think. You needÂ to think beyond what you see.
I learned this way of thinking because of the teachers we have at the Centre for Science and Technology (Cosat). I wasÂ one of the learners who was not an active reader, but my Grade 8 English teacherÂ almost forced us to read and it helped me to develop. I went from being a shyÂ child who wouldnâ€™t speak in class to suddenly having much more confidence inÂ myself, and believing in myself that I could be anything that I want.
My dream forÂ the future is to be a chemical engineer. Iâ€™ve applied at UCT and Wits and gotÂ accepted, so Iâ€™m still deciding where I will go. I already have a bursary from theÂ Department of Water Affairs.
You can feel that my family is happy that Iâ€™mÂ getting somewhere with my life. Iâ€™m the third to go to university in my family.
We come from poor families, so certain things we like to develop us, we canâ€™tÂ attain them at home, and that is why you find the strength to work hard in yourÂ education.
IÂ want to improve my situation at home because our parents work,Â and if their working conditions are very harsh they come home tired. Itâ€™sÂ exhausting to their bodies and they donâ€™t have medical aid; they rely on publicÂ hospitals, where the services are not good.Â
In trying to raise us, our parents have problems because they have a lot of debtÂ and they are trying to repay it. As a result, they need to continue to work and you canÂ see that their bodies canâ€™t support it.
My mom, 53, is a domestic worker. SheÂ gets home after 7pm, and when she gets home sheâ€™s tired. Sheâ€™ll tell you that herÂ back hurts or that her legs are weak, or sheâ€™ll say that her whole bodyâ€™s painful.Â
For me, as a child, thatâ€™s hurtful, to think that my parent is becoming older, theirÂ bodies are becoming weak, and you donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going to happenÂ tomorrow, but you can see each day theyâ€™re struggling. Itâ€™s not easy, but it propelsÂ you in your education to move far because you want to make tomorrow better.Â
We need to find people who are innovative to be problem solvers. Young peopleÂ today donâ€™t have the curiosity to want to know why things are the way they are.Â Our youth are more interested in their social environments, so even with JuneÂ 16, when you look at how people are celebrating, they are wearing a schoolÂ uniform but you donâ€™t see the understanding of what the significance of the dayÂ is from them.
For me, I feel like whatâ€™s the point? They fought for our education,Â but what are we doing to fight against the weak pass rate? Nothing. We admireÂ those people and how they fought for education, but what weâ€™re not actuallyÂ learning from them.
Anushqah van der Ventel, 17, Manenberg High School, Manenberg
My proudest moment was in Grade 10. I wrote an essay for a SADC writingÂ competition and I came third nationally. I never knew about that writingÂ competition, but my teacher saw faith in me: she believed that I could write theÂ essay. I was really shocked that someone thought so highly of me.
School is a pressure for a lot of children living in Manenberg, because we donâ€™tÂ have the resources to educate ourselves with technology, except cellphones.Â Gang violence is now at its peak, and itâ€™s hard to study. The gangsters areÂ shooting each other from across the road.
Two nights ago, a bullet went into theÂ wall in my neighbourâ€™s house. When you are studying, you think that what if youÂ know the person thatâ€™s been shot or what if itâ€™s one of your family membersÂ coming from work?
Our youth in Manenberg just see inside where we live. We think thatâ€™s all there isÂ to our country and we donâ€™t see the other possibilities.
If the youth of the pastÂ fought for our education, and we are slacking, thatâ€™s not good enough. Instead,Â thatâ€™s showing that their fight was actually for nothing because if weâ€™re not doingÂ anything to get a good future then it might as well be the same as it was backÂ then.
We are a contrast to the youth of those days, because weâ€™re not taking control ofÂ our lives, instead we are letting our circumstances rule what our lives willÂ become.
Iâ€™m scared to walk anywhere alone, but I keep coming to school, because I donâ€™tÂ think Iâ€™ll be satisfied if I canâ€™t be something to change everything else. My parentsÂ have instilled in me that I can be much more.
Maybe they couldnâ€™t control theirÂ lives because they had so many obstacles during apartheid that my mom couldnâ€™tÂ finish matric, but she told me that Iâ€™m given the chance to control my life and beÂ something I can be.
She said that she was in the same position as me, because sheÂ had to walk through all the fights during apartheid to get to school, but itâ€™s justÂ that at that time it was worse than what it is now. Even though all this violence isÂ happening around me, I know that I should just work hard.
I want to study journalism and politics. I want to do stories on people whoseÂ voices have been taken away, people who have been abused and people whoÂ have been silenced. I would like to give them their voice back and to allow themÂ to express themselves.
Iâ€™d like to encourage the learners here that if you startÂ working hard then you can achieve better dreams and not have to go work in aÂ factory or be a domestic worker.
Those youth fought for their education in 1976,Â so we should fight to keep ours.
Jadeâ€™-lin Paul, 17, Alexander Sinton High School, Heideveld
I like to complete things. I make sure that everything I do is perfect. The otherÂ night, I was doing this physics problem, but I didnâ€™t understand it. I decided okayÂ to close my books, but as I was getting ready to sleep, I realised maybe I shouldÂ try again, and I actually got it right. That gives me the confidence to know I canÂ do something.
I really want to make a difference. Thatâ€™s basically what just keeps me going. IÂ see thereâ€™s so much wrong going on in my community, especially in the dayÂ hospital around the corner. People sit for hours to see a doctor. Thereâ€™s peopleÂ thatâ€™s really sick, and they really need it, so Iâ€™m thinking why canâ€™t I be that personÂ to make the lines a little shorter and help people?Â I want to be doctor because I want to make peopleâ€™s lives better.
I want to makeÂ myself so successful that my parents never have to buy anything for themselves.Â They did so much for me, so I just want to make their lives easier. My mom takesÂ me wherever I need to go: theyâ€™ll always be there â€“ Iâ€™ll just say that I need to beÂ somewhere. My parents canâ€™t drive, but they will make sure that I get there.
TwoÂ years ago, the doctor told my mom she has to go for an operation for her tendonÂ in her foot, but that means six weeks off school, and she said she canâ€™t afford toÂ do that right now. Thatâ€™s why I want to work, so that they donâ€™t have to worryÂ about me as well.
In those upper-class areas, they donâ€™t really know what itâ€™s like to live in theÂ ghetto with the gangsters. They not really exposed to that kind of thing, andÂ thatâ€™s why itâ€™s an inequality.
Thereâ€™s not really gangsterism here, but if you goÂ deeper into Heideveld, thereâ€™s a lot of gangsterism and shooting. They shootÂ there by the school where my mom works, and when they shoot the police has toÂ escort them out of the school.
I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s fair for primary-school childrenÂ to have to go to school in that conditions when itâ€™s got nothing to do with them,Â but they are affected by it.
The education system we have today isnâ€™t really that adequate, but the teachersÂ try to make the best of whatâ€™s happening.
At school, we donâ€™t have computersÂ and we donâ€™t have science labs, because itâ€™s technically an arts-focused school, soÂ the department doesnâ€™t really provide those type of things. When my physics sirÂ came to the school, they started improving the labs, but we too many children inÂ a class and that makes it difficult. There are 50 of us in my physics class.
My history teacher told us how driven the children of the past were to make aÂ change, but our generation just comes to school because we have to. Back then,Â they came because they wanted to make a difference.
The children of today needÂ that type of motivation so they can see school isnâ€™t just about completing matric,Â but to actually make a difference.
Iâ€™m very grateful to those children. The factÂ that they gave up their lives so that we can make a difference in the future givesÂ me hope. We have a lot of social inequality to fight against, so it gives meÂ belief that if they could fight against political inequality, then we can fight againstÂ social inequality.