Commemorating Youth Day

June 16, which is recognised as Youth Day, honors the young souls who lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid and in particular, the Bantu Education Act.

The act, which was established by the Apartheid government in 1953, demanded a different curriculum for black students that would not provide an equal education alongside their white counterparts. Instead, Bantu education provided schooling that would prepare black children for positions in service under whites or labouring on homelands.

Classrooms were overcrowded and many teachers were unqualified. In 1961, only 10 percent of black teachers had a matriculation certificate.

In Soweto, where the uprisings on June 16, first erupted, no new high schools were built between 1961 and 1972, to try and force pupils to move back to new schools in their so-called homelands. As new schools were built after 1972, the number of children in school in Soweto tripled and a stronger, more politicised youth culture grew.

In 1976, the removal of standard six, by order of the Department of Bantu Education, meant thousands of pupils were forced to stay in overcrowded primary schools, resulting in chaos.

The Department of Education announced that certain lessons had to be taught in Afrikaans, which was a language that many of the black teachers could not speak themselves. Amidst the unhappiness with the Bantu education system, an imperative to use the language of their oppressors led black pupils to protest.

On April 30, students from Orlando West Junior School went on strike, and as others followed, the Soweto student’s Representative Council’s (SSRC) organised a mass rally with the support of the Black Consciousness Movement.

On June 16, as many as 20,000 pupils between the ages of ten and 20 took to the streets from numerous schools in Soweto in what was designed to be a peaceful demonstration. As the police intervened, shots were fired and panic and violence escalated. More than 23 died that day, with thousands injured in the turbulence and violence that followed. Two days later, the authorities had closed all schools in Soweto and Alexandra.

Hector Pieterson, a 13-year-old boy from Orlando West High School was one of the first pupils to be shot, and became a symbol of the Soweto uprising. Many white South Africans were outraged at the events, university students protested against the killings, workers went on strike and by the end of 1976, the death toll stood at more than 600 people, with thousands more injured.

All of us should recognise and remember the bravery and sacrifice that young people made to free South Africa. It is their legacy that young people today must stand up to protect.

Source: Agang SA


Editorial team

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