Youth Day: Marking South Africa's struggle

2016-06-16 07:34
The iconic photo showing 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being carried after being shot by police during the 1976 Soweto uprising. (File, AP)

The iconic photo showing 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being carried after being shot by police during the 1976 Soweto uprising. (File, AP)

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News24 hands the reins to students for Youth Day 2016

2016-06-15 16:38

News24 invited learners from around the country to spend Wednesday with us, in the run-up to nationwide commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising.WATCH

#YouthDay – Today South Africa commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, in the form of Youth Day. 

June 16 was the first day of what came to be called the Soweto uprising – a day that students stood up against the bantu education system. It began in the Johannesburg township, but soon spread to other townships around the country and continued until the end of that year.

According to SA history online, events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953.

“The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement and the formation of South African Students Organisation (Saso) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-apartheid sentiment within the student community,” the site says.

But the uprising began months before, after pupils at the Orlando West Junior School went on strike in April 1976. An action committee was formed and a mass protest was planned for June 16. The committee became the Soweto Students’ Representative Council and part of the broader Black Consciousness Movement.

An iconic moment

On June 16, 1976, police blocked the movement of between 10 000 to 20 000 pupils towards the Orlando Stadium. It was during this confrontation near Orlando High, that 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was killed. Through the photography of Sam Nzima, the moment was frozen in time and forever part of South Africa’s history and the beginning of the uprising.

The June 1976 death toll was 176. At least 23 deaths occurred on the first day. Thousands were injured. The police ordered township hospitals to report anyone receiving treatment for gunshot wounds, but doctors listed the wounds as abscesses.

Pupils’ placards read: “Down with Afrikaans” and “If we must do Afrikaans, [Prime Minister John] Vorster must do Zulu.”

A giant photo by Peter Magubane displayed at a museum in Soweto (Denis Farrell, AP)

A poor education system

Bantu education was a project of the Department of Native Affairs to cater specifically to black people.

Then Minister of Native Affairs, Hendrik Verwoerd, had at the time said that natives should be taught at an early age that equality with Europeans was not for them.

Though bantu education was designed to deprive Africans and isolate them from "subversive" ideas, indignation at being given the demeaning education system became a major focus for resistance, the 1976 uprising being the most influential.

In the 1980s very little education at all took place in the bantu education system, which was the target of almost continuous protest.

The legacy of decades of inferior education has lasted to this day. Some reforms have been made to alleviate the effects of the system, but today major disparities still exist.

Sam Nzima poses with his iconic photo showing 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being carried after being shot by police. (Denis Farrell, AP)


While many parts of the country celebrate the iconic day in SA history, today's main commemorations take place in Soweto. President Jacob Zuma will speak at Orlando Stadium in Soweto from 09:00.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi is expected to speak at a Youth Day Rally at 11:00 in Meadowlands Zone 10 Community Hall, also in Soweto.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane will at 10:00 visit the Hector Peterson Memorial, on Khumalo Road, Orlando West, Soweto.

Read more on:    soweto  |  johannesburg  |  soweto40  |  youth  |  youth day

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