Youth Day commemorates the Soweto youth uprising of 16 June 1976
In 1975 protests started in African schools after a directive from the then Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools.
The Soweto uprising was a series of demonstrations and protests led by black school children in South Africa that began on the morning of 16 June 1976.
Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets of Soweto in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. It is estimated that 20,000 students took part in the protests. They were met with fierce police brutality and many were shot and killed. The number of people killed in the uprising is usually given as 176, but estimates of up to 700 have been made. In remembrance of these events, 16 June is now a public holiday in South Africa, named Youth Day.
Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the formation of South African Students Organisation (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-Apartheid sentiment within the student community. When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves.
On 16 June 1976 between 3000 and 10 000 students mobilized by the South African Students Movement’s Action Committee supported by the BCM marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium.
On their pathway, they were met by heavily armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students. This resulted in a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the government. While the uprising began in Soweto, it spread across the country and carried on until the following year.
The aftermath of the events of June 16, 1976, had dire consequences for the Apartheid government. Images of the police firing on peacefully demonstrating students led an international revulsion against South Africa as its brutality was exposed. Meanwhile, the weakened and exiled liberation movements received new recruits fleeing political persecution at home giving impetus to the struggle against Apartheid.
Bantu Education Policy.
The word ‘Bantu’ in the term Bantu education is highly charged politically and has derogatory connotations. The Bantu Educational system was designed to ‘train and fit’ Africans for their role in the newly (1948) evolving apartheid society. Education was viewed as a part of the overall apartheid system including ‘homelands’, urban restrictions, pass laws and job reservation.
This role was one of labourer, worker, and servant only. As H.F Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu Education Act (1953), conceived it:
“There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community”.
The uprisings tragically ended with hundreds of young people killed by the apartheid government when they protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
What this year’s youth month mean to South African youth?
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the 16 June 1976.
The declaration honours of the contribution of the youth in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. This year National Youth Day and Youth Month will be celebrated under the theme: “The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society.”
South Africa is fortunate to have a youthful nation. However, the recent unemployment statistics pertaining to young people is cause for concern. The 2020 fourth quarter Labour Force Survey found that about 8,6 million young people aged between 15 and 34 years are not in education and not in employment.
In helping drawing more young people into the economy, government has under the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention initiated various youth development and empowerment initiatives to support young people.
It ranges from formal education and training; learnerships and internships as well as support for youth entrepreneurship. Our initiatives provide the necessary support for young people to take on their challenges and win.
While the youth of 1976 fought for freedom and the creation of a democratic state, young people are called on to help the country the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
Today’s youth can become agents of change in their social circles and communities to assist our country fight against the coronavirus.
Let your actions speak louder than our words by practicing social distancing and following good hygiene habits.
Our fate literally rests in our own hands, and we must therefore continue with frequent hand cleaning with alcohol based hand rub or with soap and water.
Continue to be agents of change by actively making a positive impact in your communities and embody the values of liberation stalwarts like Mme Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke.
For Youth month activities, look out for our social media updates on Facebook @NationalHeritageCouncil Twitter: @NHCSouthAfrica Instagram: @nationalheritagecouncil
Information sourced from SAHistory.org.za