June 16, 1976 remembered 46 years on

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This year South Africa celebrates the 46th anniversary of the June 16, 1976, Youth Uprising. On this day in June 1976 the oppressed youth of South Africa took to the streets in protest of the new language policy, as part of the Bantu Education Act No. 47 of 1953, which declared that Afrikaans and English be the only mediums of instruction in the schooling system.

A watershed moment 

It is well documented that the protest action started in Soweto, Gauteng province [known as Transvaal in the apartheid-era] , and inspired similar action countrywide.

The protest turned violent when police opened fire on the students, many of whom were high school scholars. Consequently, dozens of young people lost their lives while others were severely injured.

A young Hector Pieterson, who had accompanied his sister on the day, became the face of the bloodshed. The picture of his injured body being carried away by  fellow student ,Mbuyisa Makhubo, and his sister Antoinette Sithole, running next to them was captured by the late photojournalist Sam Nzima, made national and international headlines.

The uprising was a watershed moment in the South African resistance movement against the oppressive laws of the apartheid regime. Many of those who either witnessed or survived the onslaught went on to join banned political organisations in exile.

Youth Month

A couple of decades later, the date of June 16 was declared a national public holiday – Youth Day – and the month of June as Youth Month by the new democratic government in 1995.

Today, Youth Day is celebrated with an official government program and the President’s address, reflecting on the strides the youth have made as well as the challenges still facing them.

Many also take this opportunity to dress in school uniform in commemoration of those that lost their lives on June 16, 1976.