At EC Cape Town on Friday 15th June, teachers will dust off their old
school uniforms and dress as high school kids – to commemorate and celebrate the lives of the children who fought so that all South Africans could enjoy being educated in their mother-tongue.
For many June 16th is just another day to have fun with friends but this day 36 years ago was one of the darkest days South Africa had ever seen.
It was the day of the Soweto Student Uprising.
The Soweto Uprising, was a series of high school student-led protests in South Africa that began on the morning of June 16, 1976. Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets of Soweto, in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. An estimated 20 000 students took part in the protests, and roughly 176 people were killed. The 16th of June is now a public holiday, Youth Day, in South Africa, in remembrance of the events in 1976.
Images of the riots spread all over the world, shocking millions. The photograph of Hector Pieterson’s dead body, as captured by photo-journalist Sam Nzima, caused outrage and brought down international condemnation on the Apartheid government.
The Soweto riots are depicted in the 1987 film by director Richard Attenborough, Cry Freedom, and in the 1992 musical film Sarafina!. The riots also inspired a novel by Andre Brink called A Dry White Season, and a 1989 movie of the same title.
We don’t mourn on this day, but we celebrate the giant advances that South Africa has made since that fateful day and look to our Youth for inspiration on how to continue making South Africa the amazing country we know it is – as teachers we know the value of education more than anything else and will continue to stand up for the right to be educated equally.