OPINION | Youth Day, 45 years on: Reflections on the meaning of 16 June for today's world

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Students in Cape Town march for the release of their fellow students during the uprisings after 16 June 1976. The photograph is part of the exhibition, 1976/360 at the Centre for African Studies Gallery, University of Cape Town. (Peter Magubane, via GroundUp)
Students in Cape Town march for the release of their fellow students during the uprisings after 16 June 1976. The photograph is part of the exhibition, 1976/360 at the Centre for African Studies Gallery, University of Cape Town. (Peter Magubane, via GroundUp)

To mark Youth Day, several contributors have written on their reflections on 16 June 1976, and what the day means to them.


Wednesday marks 45 years since Soweto's students took to the streets to protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction.

More than 200 people were killed when 10 000 people took part in the protest action. 

The protests were inspired by a 1974 policy to force black South Africans to study Afrikaans, but deteriorating school infrastructure and overcrowded classrooms also contributed to the frustration. 

The demonstrations would lead to countrywide protests against the apartheid government. 

To mark the day, we have several contributions from various quarters. 

The domestic head of the State Security Agency, advocate Mahlodi Muofhe, was among the students who protested in Soweto in 1976. He looks back at what that day means to him now and his frustration that not much seems to have changed for pupils. 

We also have contributions from the youth themselves - seven contributors sent us their reflections on the challenges and frustrations they are dealing with. 

Former UCT vice-chancellor and co-founder of ReimagineSA Mamphela Ramphele writes about the transformation she would like to see in order to give the youth a better chance. One South Africa Movement leader Mmusi Maimane calls on all South Africans to reflect on the day and to figure out where the country is going. University of Pretoria Vice-Chancellor Tawana Kupe has a similar sentiment, saying the youth of today need to take a stand so that they achieve the future they want.

You can read the submissions below.


The learners of 1976 want challenges in education system to be resolved

Mahlodi Muofhe argues that the meaning of 16 June has been lost by the renaming of it to Youth Day. He writes that we haven't seen much change at learning facilities over the years as a result, despite the battle that was fought for quality education in 1976.

Reflections by the youth on Youth Day: The future I dream of

Seven contributors write about their hopes, fears and challenges as they reflect on Youth Day

We need to reimagine our country for the sake of our youth

We need to reimagine our country into the just inclusive society so many fought and died for, writes Mamphela Ramphele. She is of the view that the high levels of inequity and exclusion cannot the tackled by the same socio-economic system that created the challenges we face today. 

We need to address our current challenges to honour the youth of 1976

We should use Youth Day to reflect as a country on where we are, where we should be and how we should get there, writes Mmusi Maimane.

Just like in 1976, our collective future lies in the hands of the youth

The context of our lives today might be different to 1976, but in no way does it diminish the contribution of young people in creating a new society, writes Tawana Kupe.

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