PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma says the most effective way to celebrate June 16 is to ensure that the youth enjoy the fruits of democracy that the uprising eventually delivered.
Zuma was speaking at a rally at Thulamahashe in Mpumalnga as part of the 34th commemoration of the 1976 student uprising.
"It is the month in which our youth put down an ineradicable stamp in the history of this country, braving all odds to fight for equal education for all.
"And in the same spirit, the gains that have been made through democracy should therefore accrue to them all," Zuma told the thousands who attended the event.
He said it was important that this year's Youth Day was celebrated in a year that has been declared the International Year of the Youth by the United Nations.
"This proclamation was born out of the realisation that the way the challenges facing the youth are addressed presently has a great bearing on them because they are the future.
"It also expects of us to create an enabling environment for their self-affirmation and expression. This way they can develop all life aspects, including the physical, intellectual, social and personal. Such progress will enable them to participate meaningfully in society as fully developed citizens," Zuma said.
Zuma shared the stage with the chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency, Andile Lungisa. He said he remained baffled by people who torched public buildings to complain about services.
"It is still baffling as to why someone would burn down a clinic because they do not have a school or destroy a library because the water taps have run dry," Zuma said.
He said it was much easier to destroy than to build, and that every facility was an investment for future generations.
"I appeal to our youth to be vigilant against these criminal elements," Zuma said.
It was important not to forget the "commanding significance" of the event of June 1976 and the past and future role of the youth.
Some attending the rally were wearing school uniforms to remember the day. Many said they felt good to know where their freedom came from.
Zuma also praised South Africans for making the World Cup a success and urged everyone to support Bafana Bafana as they played Uruguay last night.
"Quite fittingly, with Bafana Bafana making us proud in their dazzling opening encounter with Mexico last week, this is a good day and a wonderful period in our country," he said.
He said South Africans had displayed "amazing patriotism and national pride", and had received visitors warmly and hospitably. "They have made us proud as government."
He said the event was successful because of the support of all "our people".
Minister of Women, Children and People with Disability Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya said her department would unveil a key campaign within days aimed at improving the lot of women, children and people with disability.
She said the challenges facing the youth included a higher rate of HIV-Aids, unemployment, access to tertiary education.
"As we commemorate June 16 in this important month during which the first Fifa World Cup in on African soil kicked off, we need to urge our youth to embrace the opportunities brought by our democracy.
"At the same time we need to encourage the youth to roll up their sleeves in pursuit of a better life."