Today in South Africa is National Youth Day but more importantly it is the 35th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. On June 16, 1976, thousands of students from Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship-of Johannesburg) staged a peaceful demonstration by walking towards Orlando High School when they came across police officers who had prevented them from moving forward. The students were protesting for being forced to learn Afrikaans, the language of the oppressors. When they realized that the police had stopped their planned route, the youth started chanting several slogans; “Down with Afrikaans,” “Viva Azania (name given to refer to South Africa),” “If we must do Afrikaans, Volster (prime minister of Rhodesia/Apartheid South Africa) must do Zulu.” After a couple of minutes, the peaceful protest turned violent as police officers starting shooting towards the crowd. The first victim of the Soweto Uprising was Hector Pieterson. More than 500 people died and thousands injured. This incident sparked riots across South Africa.
When I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, I had the opportunity to go to Soweto and visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial in honor of all the youth who died on June 16, 1976. It was very important for me to go to Soweto during my time in South Africa. I couldn’t imagine my experience without going to Soweto. The Hector Pieterson Memorial was a very emotional experience for me.
Due to the Soweto Uprising, South Africa has declared June 16th a national holiday to celebrate Youth Day. The idea is to pay attention to the needs of the Youth. But, for Youth Day to be successful, the leaders of South Africa must actively engaged in tackling the issues that the youth face today. There shouldn’t be street children in South Africa if we are addressing the needs of the youth. There should be more soccer fields, arts and cultural centers, symposiums where youth discuss their needs and elected leaders listen to those needs, more schools, more funds invested in the fields of education, health care, housing, etc.
As we remember the 35th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, let us remember that never again must a racist system be ever implemented in the world and may our youth never again be massacred for expressing themselves.
Here is an article where Sam Nzima, the photographer who took the famous picture of Hector Pieterson, reflects on the Soweto Uprising.
Here is a scene of the Soweto Uprising taken from the movie, Cry Freedom.