Why do we celebrate youth day in South Africa? Is it because this age group did anything special to merit such an honor? Not exactly! Youth Day is an internationally recognized holiday that is dedicated to the young people of a country. Currently, eighteen states observe this holiday on different dates across the year. However, in 1999, The United Nations set aside 12th of August as the standard or universal youth day. Read on for more facts on youth day South Africa.
What is youth day all about?
The youth day in South Africa is a public holiday that is annually commemorated on the 16th of June. It is usually held in memory of one particular protest which culminated in a wave of simultaneous countywide protests in what came to be known as the 1976 Soweto uprising. This was a direct response to some issues in the Bantu Education Act and the 1974 government directive that Afrikaans be applied as the language of instruction for several subjects in all black schools.
How did Youth Day start?
For several years, tension had been simmering under the Bantu education system. The South African apartheid regime, had enforced this infamous system that;
- Codified segregated schools
- Ended the missionary schooling for African children
- Ratified a racist curriculum whose aim was to mold black children into manual laborers. A school was only to prepare them to serve the ruling class.
All along, there was a simmering undercurrent of resentment which boiled over in 1974 following the passage of the Afrikaans Medium Decree. The proclamation made it mandatory for all black children to be taught in Afrikaans and English. This Afrikaans language factor was a scratch in the wound because both the teachers and students regarded it as the "Oppressor's language."
There was a lot of anger among the Africans following the Afrikaans Medium Decree. The decree was passed when Africans already weighed heavily under the grievance of the racist and poor quality education. For this reason, students all around Soweto decided to hold peaceful demonstrations on the 16th of June 1976.
On this fateful morning, an average of fifteen thousand students left their schools and gathered in readiness for a grand march towards Orlando Stadium. Along the way, the demonstrators were confronted by the police who ordered everyone to disperse. The protesters defied the orders and adamantly marched on after which the police released a police dog and fired teargas canisters into the crowd. In the following chaos, the dog was killed as the students scattered in all directions.
In the ensuing melee, the police opened fire on the demonstrators and struck a twelve-year-old Hector Pieterson. In a heroic act of courage, Mbuyisa Makhubo, a fellow student picked up Hector’s body and carried him away to a nearby clinic. The photo captured of Mbuyisa carrying Pieterson with his (Pierterson’s) sister beside them produced a trending image that appealed to emotions all around the world.
This event escalated into a full-scale battle as many more protesters continued falling to the police bullet while demonstrators expressed their wrath by targeting beer halls, vehicles and related apartheid symbols such as government buildings. Although the apartheid government officially listed twenty-three as the number of students killed, other estimates put the death toll 176 with some even marking it as high as 700. Through a trending photo captured by a photographer at the scene, Hector became the international symbol of South Africa's oppression and brutality.
How is Youth Day celebrated in South Africa today?
Youth Day Celebrations in 2018
- Today youth day is celebrated in different ways throughout the country. In Cape Town, in 2018 for instance, the Rainbow Academy and Iziko Museums presented a collaborative youth day event featuring music and dance. They did this celebrating culture in a youthful manner.
- In Durban Iain EWOK Robinson, a renowned poet hosted an open mic event in which poets performed to honor those who died in the 1976 Soweto massacre.
- In Johannesburg, the presidency, the National Youth Development Agency and the Department of Arts and Culture jointly hosted the youth day celebrations in Soweto. The president joined in the remembrance walk to Orlando Stadium from Moris Isaacson
- In KwaZulu Natal, The Ntenga Foundation organized a charity run and walk that attracted more than 6000 participants in a 5000 and 1000 Km race.
When was youth day first celebrated and can one celebrate in Afrikaans?
The youth day has practically been honored since the massacre took place in 1976. However, it was officially declared a national holiday in 1994 and recognized as Youth Day. It is mainly celebrated in English. Remember in Afrikaans it is still loathsome to many Africans.
Today, youth day South Africa serves as the annual reminder of the strides the country has made with regards to youth equality. The day also presents the youth as agents of positive change who also inspire hope for the future. While in Johannesburg, please visit the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. It is in Orlando West in Soweto (8288 Maseko Street) near the location where the protest started.
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