Historical relevance

Worldwide, June 16, the Day of the African Child, commemorates the fight of the youths against the true brutality of the apartheid system in South Africa. Not only were all black south Africans subjected to a hostile socio political as well as economic environment at every turn, but the youth already recognised that their most important right was being infringed upon: the right to access education in their own language, or their preferred language (English).

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. Within these policies it was stated that “Afrikaans had to be used for mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies from standard five (7th grade), according to the Afrikaans Medium Decree; English would be the medium of instruction for general science and practical subjects (homecraft, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, art, agricultural science)” (Ndlovu, Retrieved 30 October 2011). It therefore comes as no surprise that the enforcement of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, a language already strongly associated with the oppressive system of the day, would lead to historical events and revolts which started in Soweto and spread throughout the county in different stages between 1976 and 1977. These student uprising profoundly changed the political landscape in South Africa.

Youth protestors were met with violent police force. Shots were fired, police dogs set on them and the violence continued well into the night. Images of the riots spread all over the world, shocking millions. This caused outrage and brought down international condemnation on the Apartheid government.

In 1991, the OAU Organisation of African Unity now African Union (AU) honored those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and declared June 16 as Day of the African Child. This day acknowledges and commemorates those who sacrificed their lives and also raises awareness on the urgent need to improve the education provided to African children today.

Looking to the future

The rebelliousness nature of youth of yesterday has paved the way for ambitious youth today to stand up for their rights. Across the globe, youth are taking a stand on issues that directly affect them. From addressing polluters and calls for concrete actions on climate change, to demanding better support for youth sectors, youth are firmly taking their rightful place within the global debate arena.

This year, youth participants attending the 100 Million campaign meeting in Accra, Ghana, joined the rest of the International Community to commemorate the Day of the African Child. In their joint statement, youth are standing in solidarity with fellow students and young people around the world who continue fight for their rights and academic freedom.

Author: Lerato Balendran, GCE Communications Officer

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.