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South African Youth Enter the African Century

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The youth of South Africa unites!
The dawn of the "African Century" was upon us as we witnessed the inauguration of South Africas's second democratically elected president, Thabo Mbeki. Little did we know this day represented much more than the dawn of a new day, but a day for the youth of South Africa.

Map of South Africa
June 16 was established as National Youth Day back in 1996 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the student uprising in Soweto. The many students that were killed during the police riot on June 16, 1976 were just the first of thousands more that would lose their lives in the years of the nation's active struggle against apartheid. That day is often considered the beginning of the end. It was appropriate that this day began with former President Nelson Mandela laying wreaths at the memorial marking the first victims that were killed in the police shooting 23 years ago.

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The practice of "Faranani" to join hands
The sadness of the day was soon replaced by rejoicing and a feeling of hope for the future as the nation welcomed in a new president and the new responsibilities and opportunities facing the youth today. The National Youth Commission (NYC) did an excellent job working with the government to organize a day full of festivities and celebrations fit for the occasion. Over 50,000 people (Monica and myself included) gathered in the large fields in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria (the administrative capital), for the People's Concert, a concert celebration that reminded me a lot of July 4th in Washington D.C.

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Celebrating National Youth Day
While we celebrated outside, the formal inauguration with government officials took place inside the Union Building. Former president Nelson Mandela and new president Thabo Mbeki emerged to greet the crowds at around noon. Mbeki dedicated most of his speech to the country's youth, whom he thanked for "lending" National Youth Day to the government for the inauguration.

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Nelson Mandela addresses the crowd
"It is right and proper that the ceremony took place on June 16--if it were not for the sacrifices and struggles of the youth, we possibly would not be standing here today. The youth of this country must continue to play a heroic role," he urged the thousands of cheering youth. "You must be in the front ranks in the struggle to build a better life for all our people. You must be in the front ranks of the struggle to solve the problems facing us."

There are many challenges that stand before the young men and women of South Africa today. Mahleni Bhengu, the chairperson of the NYC, says one of the major tasks ahead is to bridge the enormous information gap that stands in the way of so many youth in the country. That's why they started the Youth Information Services (YIS) last June. The service includes a toll free hotline and a website to facilitate access to important information and services for youth. The NYC also will provide web space and assistance to any youth organization wishing to make use of the internet to sell, inform, and communicate their mission and opinions.

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Mahleni Bhengu, chairperson of the National Youth Commission
"I therefore invite you to surf the NYC site for more cool info on youth and their organizations. The active participation of young people in this democracy is crucial if we are to build a better country," Bhengu spoke out to the futures leaders of South Africa.

Another great concern facing youth here is the spread of HIV/Aids, which has reached uncontrollable proportions in South Africa. Both Mbeki and Bhengu urged everyone to make use of the YIS and other government services to educate themselves about the disease and how it is spread. Thousands of concert goers walked about the inauguration festivities adorned in safe-sex stickers that the government handed out. "The youth must do everything to ensure that people live in safe communities and to also ensure the other things we need like learning and teaching," said Mbeki looking out over the thousands of young faces that looked towards their new president in hope. "By doing this we will be true to the memory of the young people who died in Soweto in 1976."


Monica - Capturing the Celebration of the Century!
Shawn - Hluhluwe: Finding the "Big Five" Beasts of Africa
Abeja - Rugby and Pizza Hut---welcome to Africa!?!

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