– by Nkosingiphile Ntshangase
This month will mark the 45th anniversary of the tragedy that was the Soweto uprising. We acknowledge this day as Youth Day, and it is commemorated on the 16th of June every year. On this day in 1976, thousands of students were ambushed by the apartheid regime during a protest. On Youth Day, South Africans pay tribute to the lives of these students and recognise the role of the youth in the liberation of South Africa from the apartheid regime. There had been unrest from schools that had a majority of black South African students after the implementation of the Bantu Education Act of 1953. This Act made it compulsory for black children to attend government schools and be taught in English and Afrikaans, and not their first language.
The protest began in Soweto and spread countrywide and profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. The students encountered heavily armed police who used excessive force and teargas in an attempt to diffuse the situation. However, this only aggravated the situation and further frustrated the students which led to a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the government. This political statement caught fire across the country and students finally said enough is enough and showed ongoing resistance against the manner of teaching under Bantu Education.
The aftermath of the events of June 16, 1976, had severe consequences for the Apartheid government. The media sharing of the police firing on peacefully demonstrating students led to an international uproar against South Africa and its Apartheid regime. Due to the international attention this event and the events following were receiving, the government then decided to revoke the Bantu Education Act in 1979.
Youth Day should serve as a reminder to all South African to use the power of their voices, and continue to embrace the ‘rainbow nation’ ideal by celebrating humanity and its differences. This day is a reminder that the freedom we have post-1994 should not be taken for granted and we should never forget to fully exercise our constitutional rights by making the world a better place for generations to come. We owe it to those who so bravely fought for us in 1976.