South Africans have been celebrating the role played by young people in the fight against apartheid, three decades after their protests spawned a movement against white minority rule, which was finally ended in 1994. More than 40,000 people gathered at Johannesburg's main soccer stadium Friday and Rowan Reid was there for VOA.
National Youth Day is a special holiday for most South Africans. It's held on the anniversary of the day the first children were killed in the struggle against apartheid.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising.
At the FNB soccer stadium outside Johannesburg, more than 40,000 people were bussed in from around the country to celebrate. Most, children born after apartheid had ended. And, while many have little understanding of what happened on that day, they all understand its consequences - freedom.
"From what I know people were suffering at that time this generation now we are more free than those people in 1976," one person said.
"The students of 76 they decided they wanted to stood up fight for their rights but today as 30 years back we are free and we are together," said another man.
Thabo Mbeki joined the celebrations, and thanked the class of 1976 for its contribution to South Africa's democracy. He urged all sectors of society to play a greater role in helping resolve the challenges faced by young people today.
"We remember the youth of 1976 because they have left us a lesson, a lesson that it is possible for young people to stand up and confront the challenges facing them," he said. "We remember them because we would like the youth gathered here today and their comrades throughout our country, to follow their example unwavering commitment as they confront the modern day challenges of poverty and unemployment, of alcohol and drug abuse, of AIDs and other diseases, of illiteracy, women and child abuse and other problems that make the lives of our youth difficult."
Mbeki's speech resonated with the many parents in the stadium who see the challenges of a modern society every bit as dangerous as rioting against the police.
"We need to formalize a good strategy of how can we, when we mobilize the youth of today, to focus for economic development rather than to go to alcohol or drugs abuse or to promote HIV/AIDs," one man said.
Along with the many young people at the tribute, were others who were there to reflect on the changes achieved and to remember fallen heroes.
"Thirty years ago my dad died, on this day. I feel proud because, I brought my daughter, I wish the cameras were here so that they can see, that the world can see that the son of Mosi after 30 years," one man recalled. "For me it's an anniversary, I am celebrating the lives of those who have died for this younger boy."