THIS year's 34th commemoration of the June 1976 youth revolt is special in a way.

THIS year's 34th commemoration of the June 1976 youth revolt is special in a way.

It happens in a year that the United Nations has declared the international Year of the Youth.

This is an important development because it means throughout the world there is a sharpened focus on youth issues.

Like in most developing communities, the key issues for South Africa include economic participation, education and skills development, and poverty alleviation.

In this regard the government must be commended for creating institutions like the National Youth Development Agency and developing poverty alleviation strategies aimed at creating an environment wherein the youth can fulfil their dreams.

What events like the commemoration of June 16 1976 do is grant us an opportunity to honour those who sacrificed their youth by taking on the vicious apartheid system.

But it is also an opportunity for us to learn from the history on which they have left an ineradicable stamp. These were individuals driven by selflessness and commitment to the liberation of their people.

In an interview with two such individuals I was struck by the importance of revisiting important developments in our liberation struggle.

We must not only do so to honour the memories of those who made the sacrifices but also to reflect on our present situation.

Rodney Tsholetsane and Themba Hlatshwayo are two ex-Robben Island prisoners who were incarcerated for their participation in the 1976 revolt.

The two are former Bethal trialists. Tsholetsane served five years in prison, mainly on Robben Island after being found guilty of treason. Hlatshwayo also served his 8-year sentence on Robben Island.

The two revealed that a major driving force in their activism was the value system that existed in their communities.

This was based on a spirit of communalism, respect, humility, compassion and a desire to improve oneself so as to play a role in the development of one's community.

It is this drive to improve everyone's lot that saw them participating in projects led by the Black Consciousness-driven Black People's Convention and the PAC.

Both Tsholetsane and Hlatshwayo were part of the Young African Religious Movement - an organisation that encouraged the youth to be involved in community projects.

They believe these values have been replaced by individualism and crass materialism.

Unlike them, the youth of today are faced with a value system that negates the essence of community development.

This, they believe, is a major obstacle for both youth and community development. It de-links youth development from its overall essence - which is the creation of a cohesive and stable community.

"Today's youth lack the community service ethic that drove most of us as activists," argues Tsholetsane.

The two blame the prevailing situation on both the youth and the current socio-political situation in the country.

They believe the youth have lost the values that drove the youth of 1976 - and turned into egotistic, individualistic and materialistic individuals who have become alienated from their own communities.

But they also blame society - where adults have lost their role as repositories of good values, and have become individualistic and materialistic themselves.

This has created, for example, a situation where education is no more a tool for development and improving one's material conditions.

Instead, having the right political connections and access to those in power has become the gateway to one's development.

"The challenge today is not only about youth development but also about how we change our leadership structures. Our leaders must reflect the kind of values that will motivate the youth to become community driven," says Hlatshwayo.

This, Hlatshwayo and Tsholetsane believe, can be achieved through a different kind of activism that is driven by a community service ethic that inspired them as youth leaders in the 1970s.

For us as South Africans and the youth of today, this is the lesson that we can learn while commemorating June 16 1976.