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June 16: Youth Day

Today, the 16th of June, is Youth Day, a public holiday in South Africa, observed to commemorate the 1976 Soweto uprisings.

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The uprisings marked a key moment in South Africa’s struggle for liberation during apartheid: they were a spontaneous, sustained challenge to the racist government from an unlikely source, the country’s youth.

  • Practical note on SA public holidays: banks and post offices are closed, as are many shops; and trains, buses and minibus taxis run limited services.

On 16 June, 1976, a large band of schoolchildren gathered in Orlando, Soweto (and other areas), to march against the government’s imposition of Afrikaans as the universal medium of learning. The police arrived to break the protest up, and, during the confrontation, began to fire with live ammunition on the students. Many were killed – including Hector Pietersen, subject of an iconic photograph that is featured at the Soweto memorial where he fell.

The Soweto protests galvanized other parts of the country, and became the focus point of a new, internal movement for freedom.