“Total Economic and Political Emancipation: the Ideology and the Programme of Action” Paul Mashatile

This is an extract from a speech delivered by the TG on the occasion of the Unisa College of Law Youth Month Lecture and Roundtable Discussion under the theme: “Total Economic and Political Emancipation: the Ideology and the Programme of Action”

Every year during the month of June as a nation we take time to reflect and remember the role played by young people in our struggle for liberation and in the ongoing effort to reconstruct and develop our country.

We pay tribute to young people in the academia, in business, in politics, in civil society, in faith-based organizations and in all areas of human endeavor.

Many of these young people have taken it upon themselves to bring about the change they want to see. They have taken their destiny in their own hands! 

We also use this period to renew our commitment to the goal of empowering young people, for we know it too well that it is on the shoulders of young people that our future, as a nation, lies.

It was President O.R. Tambo who reminded us that: “The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.”

In his 1911 seminal essay entitled the Regeneration of Africa, a young Pixley ka Isaka Seme had the following to say:

“The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and of religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business, and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of peace - greater and more abiding than the spoils of war.”

“Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period! By this term, regeneration, I wish to be understood to mean the entrance into a new life, embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence. The basic factor, which assures their regeneration, resides in the awakened race-consciousness. This gives them a clear perception of their elemental needs and of their undeveloped powers. It therefore must lead them to the attainment of that higher and advanced standard of life.”

Later that year – in October 1911 – Seme penned the Native Union in which he made an impassioned plea for unity and declared that; “The demon of racialism, the aberrations of Xosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and the Tongaas, between the Basotos and every other native must be buried and forgotten; it has shed among us sufficient blood! We are one people. Those divisions, those jealousies are the cause of all of our woes and all of our backwardness and ignorance today.”

Collectively, these words penned by a young person helped shape the ideological outlook and programme of action of our liberation movement, the African National Congress, which was founded a year later in 1912 in Mangaung.


In terms of Seme's thinking the unity of the oppressed; the burying of divisions among them was a necessary precondition for their total economic and political emancipation. This will be a time in which a brighter day will rise upon Africa; where Africa will be regenerated, where she will enter into a new life and where her awakened race consciousness will lead her to the attainment of a higher and advanced standard of life.

We also recall another young person: Solomon Tekiso Plaatje, the founding Secretary General of the ANC, who in the first chapter of his classic; the Native Life in South Africa, published in 1916 wrote the following; “Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

These words are perhaps some of the most profound and most famous to be penned by this young revolutionary and African intellectual. Over the years, these words have been immortalized as they correctly captured the devastation of the 1913 Land Act on the lives of the African majority in our country.

Later in the book the Native Life in South Africa, Sol Plaatje wrote: “For to crown all our calamities, South Africa has by law ceased to be the home of any of her native children whose skins are dyed with a hue that does not conform to the regulation hue.”

Once again, these words by Solomon Plaatje – when he has still in his 30s – helped shape the ideological outlook and programme of action of the liberation movement towards the emancipation of the oppressed.

History also records that that it was a young African music composer, Enoch Sontonga, who at the age of 24 years, composed the Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika. This song inspired many struggles to build the Africa we want – a continent of our dreams; an Africa that is economically and politically emancipated.

We also know that it was a group of young people in their mid-twenties to early thirties that gathered at the Bantu Men’s Social Club in Johannesburg and brought to life a youth movement – the African National Congress Youth League – that was to become a powerful force behind the African National Congress. The Congress Youth League also became a force that would radically change the course of our struggle for the emancipation of the oppressed.

We will never forget the fighting youth generation of 1976, who after a long period of lull occasioned by the banning of the liberation movement, led from the front in mounting a fresh and more militant onslaught on the apartheid regime. It is these young people who swelled the ranks of Umkhonto Wesizwe. They were prepared to lay down their lives for the emancipation of the oppressed.

The youth generation of the 1980’s – those who responded to the call to render South Africa ungovernable and apartheid unworkable, as well as those white compatriots who were part of the progressive student movement and who participated in militant campaigns such as the anti-conscription campaign – also played no small part in ensuring that freedom is achieved in our lifetime, and that we move further along the path of total economic and political emancipation.

We also remember the young people who led the #RhodesMustFall and the #FeesMustFallMovemnet. They too moved our country further along the path of realizing the goal of total economic and political emancipation.

I am raising these things to highlight that young people have always been at the center of shaping the ideological outlook and programme of action of the liberation movement.

Through their ability to innovate, their youthful exuberance, and the power of their ideas young people have shown readiness to give direction, to write their own history and to lead from the front.

At times, their impatience with the direction and pace of change in our country has helped us make important strides in our ongoing journey towards total economic and political emancipation.

We in the African National Congress have always maintained that young people must occupy the foremost trenches as we rebuild our country.

Like those young people who came before them, the young people of today have a responsibility to lead society and to propel our nation to greater heights.

Accordingly, we believe that young people must continue to be empowered and given the necessary space and support to enable them to play the important role they need to play in our society.

Without the meaningful involvement of young people, our efforts towards total economic and political emancipation will be weakened.

We are encouraged that the youth of today have identified the struggle for economic freedom as an important part of the overall effort towards the total emancipation of those on the margins of our society.

Young people are clear that political freedom on its own is not sufficient.

They have chosen to take the lead in the struggle for radical socio-economic transformation.    

One of the most important ways of ensuring the empowerment of young people as well as enabling them to take their rightful place in our society is through education.

It is for this reason that education remains the single most important investment we are making as a nation in our children.

We are determined as the ANC to intensify efforts towards equal and quality education; assured in the knowledge that education is the greatest equalizer.

We will continue to support our young people in their fight for expanded access to education, including at institutions of higher education.

We note with appreciation the significant strides made by the ANC government in improving educational outcomes in our schooling system.

While we note these important strides, we are the first to admit that a lot more still needs to be done.

Equally, important gains are being made towards our commitment to provide free higher education to poor and working-class students.

Our government is working with all stakeholders to find solutions to the critical issue of the student debt as well as the equally important issue of funding higher education for the missing middle.

We are also committed to providing adequate funding for the TVET, Community Education and Skills sectors.

These components of our education system play a vital role in empowering millions of young people as well as providing opportunities for skills development, life-long learning, adult education and literacy.

We are concerned about the high and rising levels of youth unemployment in our country.

Equally concerning are the more than 8 million young people between the ages of 15 to 35 years that are neither in school, in employment, nor in training.

It is also a reality of our time that the COVID-19 induced economic crisis has had a particularly negative impact on young people many of whom are in precarious jobs.

As part of dealing with youth unemployment, the ANC government is hard at work to ensure that initiatives that accelerate the placement of youth in employment opportunities that equip them with skills and experience are intensified.

Furthermore, government is working together with social partners: business, labour and communities to accelerate the implementation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

This plan sets out a series of actions aimed at fundamentally altering the trajectory of the South African economy. Already young people are among the major beneficiaries of the implementation of the Plan:

  • The Presidential Employment Stimulus, which supports a range of programmes, from expanding traditional public employment to protecting existing jobs and providing support for livelihoods. This programme is the most rapid expansion of public employment in South Africa’s history. It includes the more than 300 000 education assistants who have been placed in over 20 000 schools across the country. These young people who are part of this programme are learning skills that will help them to succeed in the job market.


  • Income support is being provided to more than 125 000 workers in the Early Childhood Development sector, whose livelihoods were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • More than 50 000 opportunities have been created in public employment programmes in the environment sector, including in natural resource management, fire prevention and the war on waste.


  • More than 100 000 small-scale and subsistence farmers are being provided with support to acquire inputs so that they can expand production.

Significant progress is being made to support industrialization and to rebuild the local manufacturing industry. This as an important intervention in supporting local industries and creating decent, sustainable jobs.  Master Plans have been finalized in the sugar, poultry, steel as well as the clothing, textiles, footwear and leather sectors. Ultimately the goal is to create the necessary conditions for local industries to grow in a manner that is labour absorbing.

We salute all those young people who are at the forefront of our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many are first respondents; and many are essential workers who, on a daily basis, are putting their lives on the line to save the lives of others.

Many are assisting the sick and elderly to get vaccinated.  We thank these young people. They are our heroines and heroines.

We take this opportunity to urge all South Africans to remain vigilant as COVID-19 is very much still with us. Accordingly, let us all continue to wear our masks, wash and sanitize our hands regularly, maintain social distancing and avoid crowded places and events. It is in our hands to defeat this invisible enemy.

We urge our government to accelerate the process of vaccination. One way of doing this is to bring the private sector on board by allowing it to acquire and distribute approved vaccines.

Another way of building the required capacity to fast-track the roll out of vaccines, is for universities and institutions of higher learning to train young people in the process of vaccination and allow them to work with health authorities in rolling out vaccines in our communities. This will provide much needed employment opportunities for young people, including unemployed graduates.

We will continue to look up to young people to lead us to an era when a brighter day will be able to rise upon our continent and our country - an era of total economic and political emancipation. To the young people of our country we say: the future is in your hands




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