Youth Day: Fighting for Equal Education | African Impact Blog

Today, our volunteer projects in South Africa are observing Youth Day; a holiday dedicated to the youth of this amazing country. It honors the death of many school children on a day in 1976 that changed the course of history in South Africa. Here, Cape Town Business Manager, Kaylee, shares with you a slice of this history, and how African Impact are still fighting for the rights of youth in this city.

The Soweto Uprising

Protestors during Soweto Uprising in 1976

On the morning of June 16, 1976, thousands of students from the African township of Soweto, outside Johannesburg, gathered at their schools to participate in a student-organized protest demonstration.

Youth Day in South Africa is held on 16th June each year to commemorate the day that students in Soweto, Johannesburg, took a stance against the Apartheid rule. This rule saw black and ‘coloured’ pupils receive a far inferior education than that of their white counterparts.

For almost two decades prior, the Bantu Education Act (1953) had effectively seen the education of black and coloured persons be controlled and limited, which ensured a workforce of labourers and service personnel. Anything above this was deemed unnecessary.

The beginning of 1974 saw a further mandate imposed, the Afrikaans Medium Decree, whereby lessons had to be delivered in equal parts English, and Afrikaans. It did not matter that many local people did not speak Afrikaans, nor that few teachers outside of the Afrikaans population spoke it either. The law had changed, and that change set back the education of millions of South African students even further.

June 16th 1976

Hector Pieterson being carried by fellow students

The famous photo that marks the tragedy of the day, fellow students carry Hector Pieterson’s lifeless body away from the protest.

What was planned to be – and what started out as – a peaceful protest took a turn for the worse. Between 3000 and 10,000 students are said to have shown up to march through Soweto to Orlando Stadium. The mass of students never made it that far, as they soon came face to face with the police force. The nature of the protest changed.

There are conflicting reports about what started the change; some say the police watching the protest let angry police dogs into the crowd of children, effectively attacking them and when they fought back the police unleashed.

Other says it was the children who attacked the dog, and being a member of the police force, the police officers had to retaliate.

Either way, what ensued was utter chaos, leaving many dead and countless injured and afraid. Images of police opening fire in crowds of students circulated across the country, sparking further protests as students around the nation decided they too would stand up for their rights.

One photo, taken by Sam Nzima, was of Hector Pieterson, a 12-year-old boy. Caught up in the chaos, Hector was gunned down. As the panicked mass fled over the top of his body, Mbuyisa Makhubo stooped to pick him up. With Hector’s sister, Antoinette, at Mbuyisa’s side, the 3 of them became the unfortunate poster children for the fight for equality in South Africa. What was a plea for equal opportunity in education became a fight for life, one that was to take the attention on South Africa’s apartheid rule global.

What’s next for youth in South Africa?

But, the tide is turning. Across townships communities like Langa and Khayelitsha, NGO’s are popping up to help facilitate the registration of schools. With registration and the all-important funding secured, the schools are able to attract teachers or at least help train those hoping to enter the teaching workforce – benefiting not just students but helping to boost employment as well.

Volunteers prepping for Youth Day

Volunteers who join us during this time love to celebrate Youth Day with the children in the communities

How you can help us this Youth Day

African Impact is working with a number of preschools in Cape Town to achieve just this. By introducing volunteers from all over the world with preschools in Khayelitsha, not only do the pupils benefit, but so do the teachers.

All those songs you were taught as a child, all those fun games and rhymes and puzzles – they all help shape your education. They make you school ready. Bring those skills with you to Khayelitsha and teach them to the preschool children we work with. Their English will improve, their counting will improve, their alphabet identification will improve. When it comes time to sit the entrance exam for preschool (yep, they really do sit these!), these children will have gained so much more knowledge and will have a head start at getting into the best schools. From there, the gap in education quality can be reduced.

Let’s breakdown the barriers preventing equal education for all. By making a sustainable impact we can really help make a measurable difference. This is not a volunteer program designed to be easy. It is challenging and will open your eyes to the realities of life in communities in Cape Town. But that’s the point. Let’s be honest about the differences that still exist and maybe then we can have a chance at equalising our education. That’s what the uprising was all about in 1976 – it’s time to stand up and do something about it.

African Impact’s volunteer projects and internships in Cape Town:

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