Youth Day in South Africa is a day to honour the courage and sacrifice of the Soweto Uprising youth and celebrate all young people.
On June 16, 1976, a demonstration in Soweto, led largely by high school students was met with a brutal crackdown by police and set off a wave of protests and violent conflicts across South Africa. The day is now commemorated as Youth Day, an annual public holiday in which South Africans remember the significance of the Soweto Uprisings and the bravery of those involved, as well as the importance of supporting the youth across the country.
Fuelled by compulsory introduction of Afrikaans as medium of instruction in high schools in mid 1970s, starting particularly with four subjects namely; Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Geography and Biology; as well as the poor quality and racist nature of black education, students throughout Soweto organised a peaceful protest on June 16, 1976. That morning, between 5,000 and 20,000 students walked out of their schools and assembled for a march toward Orlando Stadium. Along the path, police formed a wall and demanded the crowd disperse.
Without warning, police opened fire on the unarmed marchers. One of the first to be struck was 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who was picked up and carried toward a nearby clinic by fellow student Mbuyisa Makhubo with Hector’s sister; Antoinette running beside them. The event devolved into a full-scale conflict, as police continued shooting protestors and protestors began to riot, targeting apartheid symbols such as government buildings, vehicles and beer halls. Though official government records listed just 23 students killed, the death toll is generally given as 176 with estimates as high as 700. Hector Pieterson, through the iconic photo taken by a local photographer, Sam Nzima from The World Newspaper became an international symbol of the brutality of apartheid and the oppression experienced by black South Africans.