The 16th of June is a public holiday. On this say we appreciate an extra day off work or school, but it is important that we reflect on the significance and meaning behind this day.
Youth Day honours and pays tribute to the memory of brave school children that lost their lives protesting against the laws that hampered their educational achievement. At the time Afrikaans was compulsory in black township schools, while local languages were prohibited from being languages of teaching and learning. A peaceful protest seeking to change the language medium laws quickly turned into a violent confrontation between learners and the South African Police. The 16th of June 1976 stands for the day; the police shot Hector Pieterson, a black learner during a peaceful protest march. This image showcased the inhumaneness of the Apartheid government.
Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu highlight the significance of Youth day as follows:
“…let me say this and say this with the utmost conviction: the nation owes you a clear policy and practical measures to ensure that the youth contributes to, and benefits from, our new democracy.” Nelson Mandela, former President of the Republic of South Africa.
“You are fantastic; do you know that? Our freedom, in a very large measure was due to what young people such as yourselves did 40 years ago not very far from where we lived in Soweto where Hector Pieterson was shot and killed. But you are fantastic. Reach for your stars, because now you can be anything and everything you want to be.” Archbischop Desmond Tutu.
Youth Day urges us to reflect on the sacrifice of learners who fought for their fundamental right to equality, and hopefully reminds us to create opportunities and initiatives to empower and inspire youth in our country. Happy Youth Day!