Sunday, June 16, 2013

Celebrating Youth Day

16 June is National Youth Day in South Africa. 

It is a day on which the country not only remembers the youth of 1976 and the significant role they played in bringing about the freedom South Africa enjoys today, but also celebrating the freedom won and the youth of today.

On this day in 1976, Soweto high school students took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools.  The students planned to meet at Orlando Stadium before marching to the regional offices of the Department of Bantu Education, where they intended raising their grievances with the authorities.
 
On the way to the stadium, they were met by the police, who ordered them to end the march and disperse. A violent confrontation ensued, in which students threw stones and police fired shots. News of the events in Soweto soon spread, igniting uprisings around the country in which more than 550 people died.

One of the first to die on this tragic day in 1976 was 13 year old Hector Pieterson.

Sam Nzima, a photographer for The World newspaper in Johannesburg, was in Soweto, covering the riots. His iconic image (seen as part of the Hector Pieterson Memorial in the picture above) of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, is a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime.

In the early 1990s, the Hector Pieterson Memorial was built on Khumalo Street, not far from where Pieterson was shot. On 16 June 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum opened on Maseko Street, Orlando West. The museum, dedicated to preserving the memory of the 1976 uprising, is home to a collection of oral testimonies, pictures, audiovisual displays and historical documents relating to the Soweto uprisings. Together with the memorial, it commemorates those who died in the uprisings, and celebrates the students’ role in the struggle for freedom.

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