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#YouthDay: Three female students fight for change

CAPE TOWN - Every year on 16 June, we remember the youth of 1976, who fought fearlessly for equal education and laid the foundation for a new South Africa.

But in the years since the historical Soweto Uprising, many core issues remain unresolved.

In honour of Youth Day this year, three female student leaders share their struggles in post-apartheid South Africa.

The students have been photographed by Itumeleng Tony Maake, more well-know as Tony Mac, who has captured transformation through his lens.

These are their stories:

FASIHA HASSAN: WITS UNIVERSITY SRC SECRETARY-GENERAL

She is determined to fight for free and equal education for all South Africans, but high levels of unemployment and unbearable university costs mean that many young people won't have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

"We are looking at dire numbers of unemployment. The fact of the matter is, we're not being uplifted and we're not being up-skilled. There are huge issues there."

According to Statistics South Africa, the rate of unemployment went up by 26.7% in the first quarter of 2016, which means that at least 5.7 million South Africans were without jobs.

The student leader says South Africa's youth need an education to fix this.

While students secured a zero percent fee increment last year, Hassan says her goal now is to get a moratorium on future fee increases.

"Our demand is clear, it is a moratorium on fee increments until the realisation of free and quality education."

Unity was instrumental in the student fee protests last year, but divisions occurred among students, who said their protests were hijacked by political organisations for their own gain.

"After the zero percent announcement things became very difficult. It's important to understand that we are all fighting for the same goal. No matter what party you come from, we need to remember what we're fighting for. After the mass mobilisation, there were attempts to hijack and steer 'Fees Must Fall' in a different direction. It then became violent and misled."

Hassan has encouraged all people to look past their political associations and fight for change, instead of fighting each other.

It was unity, after all, that brought about change in 1976.

LINDIWE DHLAMINI: INJABULO PROJECTS FOUNDER, SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVIST & STUDENT AT UCT

When she first arrived at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Lindiwe Dhlamini had never imagined the struggle that would lie ahead as a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

"When I moved to Cape Town in my first year, I was very disgusted by the silence."

On Mandela Day in 2012, Dhlamini, together with colleagues from other parts of South Africa, led a national protest called '67 Minutes of Shame',

Despite protests and calls for an inclusive society, there have been countless attacks on LGBTI members since then.

Dhlamini was among students who staged a naked protest last year after a student posted homophobic comments on social media.

Dhlamini doesn't believe in the term 'transformation', preferring to refer to her ultimate goal as 'decolonisation'.

"I don't believe that we can transform things. Personally, I believe that transformation is like removing white people from positions and putting black people there. The structures are still the same. There's no change, you're just forming another structure that's going to oppress people because you're using the same laws and policies."

She's described 'decolonisation' as the undoing of oppressive structures, where people reclaim their identities and enjoy equal rights.

"Right now, we're sitting with structures which are very anti-black, anti-poor, anti-homosexual … anti-everything."

She strives to dismantle these structures that have oppressed not only members of the LBGTI community, but the underprivileged in South Africa.

"Being a social justice activist, I am determined to make all oppression fall. Whenever I see an injustice, I always feel the need to do something about it because I don't want people to live in conditions where they're oppressed and where they're not free."

Her passion for youth development has led her to begin an NPO, Injabulo Anti-Bullying Project, to empower the youth.

"I started doing this project to give the young ones a head start as I'd only heard about some of these things, like patriarchy and misogyny, at university."

Through her work, she hopes to educate and inspire youth to improve their world - their future depends on it.

FARAI MUBAIWA: FOUNDER OF THE STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT FORUM & AFRICA MATTERS

As a first year at Stellenbosch University in 2013, Farai Mubaiwa was disappointed to find that women were still objectified and underrepresented in leadership.

Slut shaming, among other issues, are everyday experiences for some students, but many were afraid to talk about it.

Recent protests at Rhodes University and UCT highlighted issues faced by women on campus.

"Women are slut shamed a lot, they're objectified and it's made okay because of the culture that we have."

This inspired her to begin women's empowerment forum at the university.

"It felt like there were no safe spaces for women on campus. I found it so problematic … I mean, we have our residences but within those residences, because of patriarchy, there were certain things we would never converse about."

Already, her effort at campus has yielded positive results...

Her goal is to inspire women to rise, and to move beyond the spaces that society has confined them to.

"Women should never be ashamed of exercising their rights, if a man feels like you're an obstacle to his masculinity then his masculinity was fragile to begin with."

She says, "Women are always made to feel guilty about exercising their rights, about being excellent and pursuing their dreams and we shouldn't have to. The limitations placed on us by society needs to be removed. Be there for one another, support one another, fight together to end rape culture and be present in these issues that affect us every single day."

Forty years on, changes have been seismic as South Africans enjoy rights that the youth of 1976 may never have imagined, but many problems still exist.

They're not sitting back, and they refuse to give in.

View more images by Tony Mac below:

*Note: All portraits had originally been captured by student photographer Tony Mac. However, Farai Mubaiwa's picture was lost when Mac was robbed after the shoot and this image of her has been supplied by Mubaiwa herself. Mac is Molecular Biology student at Stellenbosch University and a guest lecturer at the university's photography department. He is also the founder of the Tony Houz Children's Foundation, which aims to empower youth.

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