This year, 2016, South Africa is celebrating 22 years of freedom and will also be marking the 40th Anniversary of the June 16, 1976 Soweto uprisings. These two events offer an opportunity to, on the one hand, commemorate the tragedy of 16 June 1976 massacre but on the other hand, celebrate the role the South African youth played in the liberation of their country as well as their contribution to the reconstruction and development of South Africa. Both celebratory and commemorative events will be organised in South Africa and abroad.
Youth Day is known as the Soweto Uprising or June 16. The uprisings tragically ended with hundreds of young people killed by the Apartheid Government when they protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a language of instruction.
The Soweto uprisings took place against the backdrop of Apartheid. This meant the legal racial segregation of all South Africans into racial groups, Whites and Blacks (Blacks being a political clustering of Africans, Coloureds and Asians) with Whites being the privileged group at the top and the Africans at the bottom, reduced to slaves to the whites in their own country. The Constitution and the laws institutionalised the division of South Africa into two worlds, a developed one for whites and an undeveloped one for blacks with Africans being at the bottom rung. Education was also divided according to the racial groups with Africans receiving Bantu Education to ensure that they were educated only for service to the white people. When Afrikaans, the oppressors’ language, was imposed as the compulsory medium of instructions for Africans even under that Bantu Education, the African pupils revolted.
On the morning of 16 June 1976, Primary and Secondary school students in Soweto marched to protest against Afrikaans as the official language of instruction, carrying signs that read “Down with Afrikaans”. The police blocked the roads, brought dogs, teargas and guns to control the crowds. The first shots were directly fired into the crowds of children, killing a 13 year old boy by the name of Zolile Hector Peterson. Mayhem followed with police firing randomly at the unarmed children. This turned into a massacre of the African students.
Arrests of students, parents, and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leaders followed. This gave rise to more violence and more arrests that spread throughout South Africa. By the end of June hundreds of people, mainly students had died as the uprisings spread throughout the country.
From June 16 1976 onwards, South Africa’s youth took centre stage in the anti-apartheid struggle with most of them forced to abandon education for the liberation of their country. They would remain in the forefront of resistance to Apartheid, alongside an increasingly powerful trade union movement, as well as a strong international anti-apartheid movement. Determined and brave young people demonstrated their hunger for equal citizenship and rights, equal education, freedom, justice, dignity and a better life. This struggle continued in all fronts, until February 1990 when Mr Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years’ incarceration in the notorious Robben Island prison and all political organisations were unbanned in South Africa.
It was only on 27 April 1994 that the heroic struggles for freedom waged through mass action involving women, youth, trade unions and religious as well as through underground and armed action and spreading to the international anti-apartheid struggles ended with the first ever democratic elections in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the icon of struggles, voted for the first time when he was 76 years old instead of the internationally accepted 18 years. He emerged as the first black democratically elected President for a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. 27 April 2016 marks twenty-two years of Freedom for the people of South Africa.
It set our nation on a path towards reconciliation, freedom, justice, peace, democracy and an entrenched strong culture of fundamental human rights and Ubuntu. In 1994, led by President Nelson Mandela, we began building a democratic country.
South Africa is a great success story. We have our challenges. However, “we have done well, and we will continue to do well, until we reach our destination: a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa” said President Zuma in his State of the National Address in 2016.
To tackle current challenges such as poverty and unemployment especially of youth, the Youth Development Agency has been set up to focus on youth so that that they are empowered through education, skills development, entrepreneurship opportunities and encouraged to unleash their potential in all other areas including through cultural activities. Education has been prioritised since the dawn of freedom because we believe it is a most effective weapon in the on-going fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.
We are building more institutions of higher learning e.g. three new universities and 12 technical and vocational training colleges. Government also continues to build modern new schools to replace other inappropriate structures.
“South African youth are urged today to promote and defend democracy, its values and institutions in memory of the young freedom fighters of June 1976, participate in political processes and use their hard won democratic right to vote, promote voluntarism in their community, support the vulnerable, play their role in building a better South Africa and a stronger, united nation,” President Zuma stated.
“Tomorrow, June 16th is marked as National Youth Day and commemorates the resilience of our youth, their sterling and selfless contribution to the freedom and the democracy we enjoy today. It is also an opportunity to celebrate their contribution to the reconstruction and development of our country,” as H.E Ambassador TE Mtintso explained.
The South African Embassy will organise a cultural performance by a 7 member youth group from South Africa – Ubuhle be-Afrika (“Beauty of Africa”) – on 15 June 2016, at the National Museum of Art in Bucharest with an hour’s performance attended by diplomats, Government officials and friends of South Africa.
Ubuhle be Afrika displays Africa’s magnificent beauty full of vibrancy and colour, diversified cultures, customs, languages, clothing and joyful songs, dances, rhythm and the movement of their agile bodies to celebrate the cultural spirit of Africa.
Ubuhle be Afrika brings on the stage the diversity of South African culture, songs and indigenous dances merging various styles – Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, Khoisan – combined with drums, marimba, percussion and poetry, in a dynamic and colourful spectacular show. In the period 2004-2015 the group held shows in Sweden, Finland and Switzerland, and this year it will perform in Romania for the first time. It’s an extravaganza not to be missed.
Photo: South Africans queuing to vote on the first democratic elections in 1994