Happy #YouthDay South Africa!

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 June 16, 1976, Uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. 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(link is external) (BCM) and the formation of the South African Students Organisation(link is external) (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(link is external)’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 peacefully demonstrating students led to an international revulsion against South Africa as its brutality was exposed. Meanwhile, the weakened and exiled liberation movements received recruits fleeing political persecution at home giving impetus to the struggle against Apartheid. 

Bantu Education Policy

The word ‘Bantu’(link is external) 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(link is external) 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 laborer, worker, and servant only. As H.F Verwoerd, the architect of the Bantu Education Act (1953)(link is external), conceived it:

“There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor. 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.

Youth Day in present-day South Africa

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