Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Howard Sercombe


The changing face of South African youth politics and the construction of youth identities in official discourse has always been an area of interest. During the struggle against apartheid, the youth category was contested by two diametrically opposed sets of discourse: the liberatory and the conservative. This study is about Black youth politics from 1944 to 1994 with especial reference to the changes in discourses of liberation and the construction of youth within these discourses. It explores the role of young people in the liberation struggle, how they were constituted by others and how they constituted themselves. This study posits a relationship between youth politics, the wider liberation struggle and the system of apartheid. In view of this interplay between structure and agency, this study adopts elements of both structural and post-structural theory. This approach provides an analysis of the structural forces in youth politics as well as a comprehensive account of young people's experiences of self-formation. By reviewing a variety of historical and sociological literature, as well as organisational and government documents, this study explores the shift in discursive and non-discursive practices. For analytical purposes, the history of youth politics is periodised into four phases: the politics of the ANC Youth League (1944-1959); the construction of young people as units of labour and the rise of the student movement (1960-1979); youth politics after the Soweto uprising and the construction of young people as "youth" (1980-1989); the construction of young people as a "lost generation" in post liberation politics (1990-1994). Research into the changes in the representation of youth will assist policy and youth organisations to develop a contextual understanding of youth issues in post-apartheid South Africa- a view of young people as active in self-formation and aware of their own history is fundamental to this process.