A Piece of South African History – Youth Day

This week in South Africa we remember a very important day.  June the 16th marks Youth Day and has been declared a National Holiday.  Youth Day goes back to 1976, when on the morning of the 16th of June, high school students started what was intended to be a peaceful march in Soweto (South Western Township) but the police responded with teargas and live bullets.

Youth Day honors all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education.  A culmination of events that took place from 1953 to 1976 in the white ruled South Africa led to these desperate demonstrations.  The final incident was the legislation that Afrikaans (this language was seen as the language of the oppressor in the minority ruled white South Africa) was to become the medium of instruction in local schools.  There were many teachers who could not speak Afrikaans, even as a second language.  Suddenly it was being legislated that they teach in this language and that students adapt too and learn it.

Thousands of students from numerous Soweto schools began a peaceful protest on the morning of 16 June.   They were to walk to Orlando Stadium and the protest had been carefully planned by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council Action Committee.  When they found the route barricaded by the police the march peacefully changed course.  There are various eye witness accounts as to how the violence started and it is said 176 people lost their lives, including women and children.  The numbers are still sketchy.

Photo journalists were there to capture events, and images made news around the world, shocking millions.  The particularly devastating photograph, shot by Sam Nzima, of Hector Pieterson, became one of the iconic memories in South Africa’s history.  He was 12 years old, was being carried by an older boy, his sister running by his side, through the streets to a nearby clinic.  He had been shot by the police and was declared dead on arrival at the clinic.  These photographs caused outrage and bought down international condemnation on the Apartheid government and more economic sanctions were called for!

The motion picture depicting this devastating time in our history has been recorded in the world famous film “Cry Freedom” directed by Richard Attenborough in 1987.  There are superb historical monuments in South Africa for you to visit if you are interested in the very rich history our country has.

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