Youth month along with Youth Day is slowly approaching. What is the significance and why should we acknowledge the day for more than just a day off school?
This month marks Youth Month and, of course, the 16th of June (Youth Day). Yup, you guessed it, another public holiday, not that anyone is complaining. Although, given the tumultuous past of our country, Youth Day is laden with significance and should certainly not be disregarded.
Why do we celebrate Youth Day?
41 years ago, on the 16th of June, the youth of South Africa started an uprising which spread across the country. An uprising which was driven by the Apartheid Government’s introduction of Bantu Education in 1953. The term Bantu Education, was a policy which continued the Apartheid regimes severe control through the education system of South Africa.
Before the Bantu Education Act was instilled, most African schools were run by missionaries with minimal financial assistance from the state. The new education system which followed, implemented a racially discriminatory curriculum which was geared towards only grooming non-white students to only be able to fulfil the needs of white supremacy. In 1974, the Afrikaans language was made compulsory, along with English, as the medium language in schools. This ruling can be seen as one of the main triggers for the Soweto Uprising of 1976.
On that day, which we now recognise as Youth Day, thousands of students gathered to peacefully march against the cause. As the march progressed, it was interrupted by armed police who fired teargas, and shortly after, ammo, on the students. The iconic and heart-breaking image of the dying Hector Petersen being carried by a fellow student Mbuyisa Makhulo and his sister running beside them instantly comes to mind. The 16th of June is thus commemorated in South Africa and on this day, we honour the many youths who fought and lost their lives against the wrath of the Apartheid government.
Okay, but how does this involve me?
As a born free, it may seem like the history of our country has nothing to do with you. However, while fighting for their own liberation, many of our parents fought for the emancipation of the youth which would follow. The youth that is made up of both you and me! In a land which is so politically charged, one can easily be put off by anything to do with politics. It’s so easy to become complacent and just turn a blind eye. Or spend the day waist deep in series binge watching. With the political climate of South Africa right now, it’s a bit difficult not to get involved. The current youth of South Africa have certainly not hesitated to follow in the footsteps of their brave predecessors of ‘76.
Why is it relevant to us today?
#FeesMustFall is an example of a student-led protest which began in October 2015, advocating against the increase of university fees in South Africa. During the ongoing protest a mass march was initiated, where thousands of students, academics and civil society groups travelled to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Again, teargas and stun grenades were fired at protestors. This display of action and courage in the youth of South Africa is important, as we move into a new era of protest in our country
As Youth Day, a momentous day in the history of our country, approaches, it is important to acknowledge what role we as the youth of this country play in contemporary South Africa. As cliché as it may sound, we are the next generation, who’s duty it is to lead the nation into greener pastures, into a democratic and free South Africa. This is long overdue.
As young people, we are constantly evolving with the times, with social media, pop culture and the world as a whole. Although we have a lot to learn from life experiences and from our elders, we are able to see things with a fresh perspective and it’s vital to use that in a positive way.
So what’s the point?
In doing so why not actually celebrate this day in a significant way. Attending youth day celebration events or rallies is a direct way of engaging with the day. If you aren’t feeling too enthusiastic about that, consciously engaging and being informed about the day is a good start.
Being socially aware of the environment you live in as well as its political state is important. You can do this by engaging with the news through television, radio, print media and social media. The spirit of Youth Month runs across more than just one month, let alone one day. It’s an ideology that should be carried through each and every day. One that promotes social consciousness, a responsibility to one’s society and an active contribution to its wellbeing.
The events that culminated towards Youth Day has had an immense impact on post-Apartheid South Africa, and it is imperative that we withhold the legacy of the youth who sacrificed both their lives and freedom for the possibility of a better South Africa. Whether you’re spending the day braai’ing or singing struggle anthems at a youth day event, awareness and the reason why we get a public holiday is key.