, 16 June, 2020 / 10:00 PM
On the annual event of the International Day of the African Child (DAC), known as the National Youth Day in South Africa where the event was born, the Catholic Bishop heading the Justice and Peace Commission of the three-nation Bishops’ Conference has urged the youth to be ready to make sacrifices that can “pave the road to change, shifting our country’s narrative and destiny.”
The Organization of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the African Union (AU), initiated the celebration of DAC in 1991.
In his “open letter to the youth of South Africa on the National Youth Day,” Bishop Victor Phalana has recalled the birth of the June 16 commemoration, underscoring the sacrifice the young people in the country made in 1976.
“Dear young South Africans, forty-four years ago, thousands of ordinary young men and women just like you did something extraordinary,” Bishop Phalana writes.
He continues in reference to the young people behind DAC who were protesting against apartheid-inspired education in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, South Africa, “They put the country ahead of themselves by taking to the streets to protest the injustices they were facing. They did so despite being met by heavily armed police, racist slurs, roaring police armored vehicles called Casspirs, tear gas assaults and live ammunition that killed 174 and injured 4000 of them.”
“Whilst taking decades to materialize, the sacrifices these ordinary young men and women made that day on 16 June 1976 were not in vain and helped pave the road to change, shifting our country’s narrative and destiny,” the South African Bishop writes in his June 15 letter shared with ACI Africa and published by the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) that brings together Catholic Church leaders in Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.
The Bishops underscores the sacrifices the young South Africans made that gave birth to the June 16 celebration throughout the African continent, interpreting the event as a fulfillment of the Lord’s recommendation: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
“May this be your ideal when facing any of the profound challenges you are dealing with on a daily basis, of which I know there are more than I can possibly identify,” the Bishop of South Africa’s Klerksdorp Diocese tells the present-day young people.
“Many of us want success or change, but without the sacrifice, handwork, disappointments and heartbreak that comes with it. We can only grow if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone,” Bishop Phalana says.
He continues, “The thorns or pain in life are there to tell us that it is time to spread your wings and achieve your goals. You must be persistent: Never forget, never lose hope, never lose sight of the goal.”
“Trusting in God can bring about the change” young people want in their lives and in our society, Bishop Phalana notes.
DAC brings to the spotlight the many challenges African children face due to conflict, poverty, climate change, inequality and now, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme guiding the 2020 commemoration is “Access to child-friendly justice system in Africa.” It was adopted February 2019 during the 34th Ordinary Session of AU’s Executive Council.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AU organized a virtual commemoration held on zoom with the “to examine the elements of child-friendly justice system, including the application of a child rights-based approach and use the four principles of children’s rights as a tool for realizing access to child-friendly justice system in Africa,” AU has reported.
AU leadership has used the occasion to call on member States to extensively engage children on the continent in view of gaining insight into the challenges they face and take action based on “comprehensive and coherent national policy.”
“Commemorating this day, I call upon Member States and Stakeholders, in extensive consultation with children, to work together towards deliberately establishing, or strengthening, a comprehensive and coherent national policy and strategy for ‘Children in the Justice System’ which shall consider the interrelatedness of the challenges that children in contact with the law are facing,” AU’s Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil has been quoted as saying.
Experts have warned that COVID-19 might undo decades of progress in child rights, putting millions of girls at a greater risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.
The coronavirus is also amplifying existing inequalities and affecting the long-term environment in which African children will grow up.
In South Africa, SACBC Youth office in collaboration with the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Town hosted a virtual celebration to mark the annual event.
In his Monday, June 15 reflection addressed to young South Africans, Bishop Phalana addresses COVID-19 crisis in the country where at least 70,000 people have contracted the disease.
“Ensure that you do not get infected and that you do not infect anyone,” Bishop Phalana tells the youth on the occasion of DAC and continues, “Wash your hands, sanitize, put on your mask and keep social distancing. Talk to your peers about the serious nature of this pandemic; we must fight ignorance.”
He advocates for hope among the young people who need to pass it on saying, “Give hope to those who are afraid, those who have lost loved ones and those who are infected. Once you are infected, it is not the end, you can get well again. Many have recovered from it. Pray and trust in God during these difficult times.”
The 59-year-old Bishop urges young people to become ambassadors of change in their respective communities that are witnessing increasing cases gender-based violence (GBV).
“Educate your peers about this scourge. Appeal to their consciences to see the evil of violence and the devastating effect it has on families and on the society at large,” Bishop Phalana says and challenges each young person to “tell yourself that you will always respect the rights of others and the dignity of human life.”
On unemployment and the youth, the South African Prelate appeals for a prayerful “discernment about opportunities and options.”
He adds, “Consult your mentors, spiritual counsellors and life coaches to get more assistance. You can move from being a job-seeker to being a job-creator. Try, if you can, to acquire the necessary skills you need, to be employable.”
The Local Ordinary of Klerksdorp reminds the government of South Africa that “coordinated multi-stakeholder interventions are needed to empower young people through various skills training options that would equip them with the basic skills required to enter the labor market, whether this means bridging numeracy and literacy gaps or equipping them with higher-level technical skills.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa