June 16 National Youth Day

Happy Youth Day South Africa!

Its a year on from the South African staged Fifa World Cup and further than being an excuse for not attending work, Youth Day in South Africa is one of those public holidays which remembers a key part in this country’s journey towards democracy.

The Soweto Uprising, which took place on June 16 1976, was a series of student-led protests in South Africa, beginning in Soweto, in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the principle medium of instruction in local schools. Imagine being forced to learn in a language that you hardly understood because it was believed to be the best and most awesome thing on the planet- not so cool right? Well that’s also what an estimated 20 000 students who took part in the protests thought- until violence between them and police erupted and roughly 176 people were killed.

On the morning of June 16, 1976, thousands of black students walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium in a peaceful rally to protest against having to learn in Afrikaans and English in school, with African languages only used to teach subjects like religious studies. The protest was intended to be peaceful but spiraled out of control when shots were fired in the crowds by South African Apartheid Police, killing many children- the most famous victim being Hector Pieterson (who was captured being carried after being shot dead by police, sparking controversy and sanctions against SA world-wide).

The 16th of June is now a public holiday, Youth Day, in South Africa, in remembrance of the tragic events that unfolded in 1976.

The national Youth Policy of South Africa defines youth as any persons between the ages of 14 and 35 years. This is a very broad definition of youth and originates from an attempt from government to recognise the fact that a 35-year-old youth lived during a period of heightened political conflicts, when he or she was a learner in school, while the younger members of this age bracket would have grown up in a South Africa where many of the new reforms and achievements of the struggles are being realized.

So while you nurse your hangover, or spend the day out and about with family, just remember the Youth of South Africa, who fought and died for your freedom.

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