By Golden Guvamatanga
ZIMBABWE was just four years from attaining independence when the Soweto uprising took place in South Africa on June 16 1976, an incident that shaped global politics with regards to youth affairs in Africa.
Slightly a year later, on November 23 1977 Zimbabwean refugees at Chimoio, Mozambique, were hit by a tragedy of even greater proportion when Rhodesian forces massacred more than 3 000 people, many of them children.
The similarities between the Soweto uprising and Chimoio massacre are striking in many ways.
Zimbabweans who perished at Chimoio were among thousands who had crossed the country’s borders to fight for freedom while those who were massacred in Soweto were protesting against the education that was being forced upon them by the apartheid regime.
According to a paper titled, The Youth Demographic: Opportunity and Challenge for Developmental Planning: A Zimbabwe Case Study by Michigan Technological University’s Kedmon Hungwe, segregation by the Rhodesian authorities was one of the reasons that led to the rise of nationalist politics in Zimbabwe.
“The origins of the formal education system in Rhodesia can be traced to the end of the 19th Century when the British colonised the country,” reads part of Hungwe’s research.
“By 1900, about 18 Christian denominations were operating in Rhodesia.
“The colonial development policy was founded on racial segregation and white supremacy as the guiding principles.
“These principles were evident in educational policies.”
In the 1920s, Herbert S. Keigwin, a Rhodesian government official working for the native department, persuaded the government to set up two state-run institutions to train Africans.
Domboshava was established in 1920 and Tjolotjo in 1921.
Keigwin’s work in education embodied a confluence of colonial ideas, drawn locally, regionally and from overseas.
His primary interest stemmed from a desire to promote rural development through village industries such as basket-making, chair-making, pottery and tile-work which would not compete with European skills and products.
The Keigwin curriculum quickly provoked student resistance because of the restrictions on academic and practical skills.
Towards the end of 1921, students at Domboshava went on strike.
The students marched to the capital to confront the education official in charge and were successful in forcing changes in the curriculum.
However, the initial adjustments did not satisfy them.
There was a second strike in 1922.
The unrest at Tjolotjo was more severe.
The school was shut down in 1922 shortly after opening as the students demanded a curriculum better aligned with skilled and semi-skilled work.
“The migration of people into the cities accelerated despite the lack of jobs, resources and infrastructure to accommodate the influx,” writes Hungwe.
“Concurrently the demand for both schooling intensified.
“A warning of what was to come was signalled when, on April 16 1958, some
60 000 African students who had failed to enrol in the crowded urban schools staged a demonstration.
“African youth were increasingly drawn to radical politics.
“The most significant political youth initiative was the founding of a political formation called the City Youth League (CYL).”
The CYL was formed in 1955 by a youths in Salisbury who included George Nyandoro (29), James Chikerema (30), Edison Sithole (20) and Dunduza Chisiza (25).
Their plan was to launch a campaign of mobilisation and active resistance.
In South Africa, the June 16 1976 uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape of South Africa.
Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953.
In Zimbabwe, the Government recognised the need to uplift young peoples’ lives through the establishment of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture in 1980.
The Youth Ministry had eight provincial offices and 60 district offices throughout the country.
Government also established the Youth Brigade Movement whose main functions were to inculcate discipline and responsibility among the youths, to cultivate loyalty and allegiance to the state of Zimbabwe and to engage youths in income generating projects.
The implementation of this programme entailed that youths had to become innovative since they were the builders of a new society and masters of tomorrow’s world.
The then Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, David Karimanzira, noted this unmatched role of empowering youths in national development.
Writing a foreword in the inaugural youth magazine Zimbabwe Youth in 1985, Cde Karimanzira highlighted the importance of youths in the country.
He said youths must not only be fully prepared to take the task of developing the country head-on but they should be entrusted with the task of building Zimbabwe.
Said Cde Karimanzira: “It is precisely you, the youths who are entrusted with the honourable task of building a free and peaceful new world.
“It is only when youth are well prepared that human resourcefulness and talents can flourish and that mankind’s historic cause of creating a new world can advance steadfastly on the great road to socialism and beyond.
“Therefore youths must bear in mind the importance of their mission and thus prepare themselves well to be masters of a new world and display all their youthful energy and talents in the construction of a new society.
“This can be manifested in their application to academic and vocational study, joining co-operatives and rendering selfless service to community through the youth brigade.”
Today Zimbabwe boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
The country commemorates the Day of the African Child with pride and zest, having set the path for unmitigated upliftment of young people.
After all, young people are the future.