After more than a decade in the forefront of the black liberation struggle, militant black youth have begun to defer to an older generation of black leaders. The appearance of African National Congress (ANC) Deputy President Nelson Mandela as the guest of honor at the first national conference of the militant South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) here this weekend, symbolized the acceptance of an authority outside their ranks for the first time in 14 years.
``Children have been in the firing line for more than a decade while teachers, parents, and the adult community at large were relegated to the status of reluctant followers or spectators in the political struggle,'' says Maud Motanayane, editor of Tribute magazine.
Since angry black school pupils took to the streets of Soweto in 1976, black youths - known as ``young lions'' - have set the liberation agenda, dismissing the more subservient style of the parental generation.
In the 1976 uprising more than 1,000 black youths died in clashes with security forces around the country.
During the 1984 to 1986 rebellion in the country's black townships ``young lions'' - between the ages of 12 and 30 - formed street committees and people's courts, enforced boycotts and strikes, assassinated blacks seen as collaborating with the government, and led the campaign for people's education. In the nationwide emergency declared in June 1986, thousands of them were detained without trial for periods up to two years.
During both uprisings more than 10,000 black youths fled into exile to revitalize the ANC's ailing military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Many of the youths inside the country look to the red hammer-and-sickle flag of the South African Commmunist Party as the most credible symbol of resistance to apartheid.