June 16th and Youth Month in South Africa

If you have ever been to South Africa, or are planning on coming here for an outreach, you would definitely be already aware and prepared for its beauty, charm and charisma. However, what few visitors sadly do not do, is spend enough time getting to know the history of this land. This task is especially important in the context of missions. Going to a nation without educating oneself on the culture and history which you are stepping into, reduces your closeness to the joy, specificities – and, pain and suffering – of its people. As such, this may affect how you approach the people of this nation, how loved they feel by you, how aware you are to not offend others and how you carry yourself and your identity in the land which is receiving you.

South Africa has a painful, deep and unjust past that has come to affect its present and future. This past of separation based on the construct of race came to affect life in every sphere of society. Apartheid, the system of racial separation which governed South Africa, led to the enactment of laws which determined where people lived, who they married and what level of education they received (to name a few) – all based on their determined racial identities. White people received the best of these, with prime land being stripped from people of colour to be handed over to the former, schools designed for their optimal education and their livelihood being promoted and preserved above all else. The issue of unequal education across racial lines has led to generational poverty amongst people of colour, and affected the youth living under the Apartheid regime in unequitable ways. 

The National Party (the pro-White, Apartheid instating party which governed South Africa) attempted to disenfranchise Black students the Bantu Education Act. This act ensured that Black students received minimum to no money or resources for the upkeep of facilities, and that Black teachers earned the lowest salary amongst all. Of all the schools separated for Black students, 30% had no electricity, 25% had no running water and almost all had no plumbing. On top of this deeply detrimental and horrific legislation, in 1976, the National Party passed the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 – which forced Black schools to make use of Afrikaans as the primary language of instruction. Afrikaans was used for Mathematics, Arithmetic, and Social Studies while indigenous languages were solely used for Religion Instruction, Music, and Physical Education. This was severely problematic due to the fact that, at the time, Afrikaans was known as ‘the language of Apartheid’, and the majority of the Black population did not speak it. This meant that lessons were being taught in a language which the students did not understand, deepening the power of the Bantu Education Act and its impact on Black education.

Classroom: Educational sites for learners and educators | South African  History Online

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Black vs White Schools under the Apartheid regime, IOL South Africa.

As such, on the 16th of June 1976, over 20 000 Black students – empowered by the Black Consciousness Movement and led by the South African Students Organization – organized a peaceful march in Soweto against the Bantu Education Act and its decrees. Sadly, this peaceful march – filled with children ranging from the ages of just 12-18 – was met by extreme violence at the hands of the police. Heavily armed policemen fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students, beating and shooting at innocent children – who were simply crying out for equal education and rights. The National Party and its police-force killed nearly 700 Black students that day.

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June 16 - What to Remember - The Home Of Great South African News

June 16th 1976, Soweto Uprising, South African History Online.

On the 16th of June every year, South Africa chooses to observe a public holiday in honour of the victims lost that day. We remember, with deep sorrow, the Black lives that were violently taken that day at the hands of evil power. We remember the injustice that has never come to an end – the perpetual cycles of inequality, violence and poverty that Apartheid has created. The pain of this day sits deeply and silently in all South Africans who mourn – at the same time that we hope, hope for days to come that no longer replicate this dark and unequal past.

Beyond observing June 16th as Youth Day in South Africa, we also observe June as Youth Month – with each year hosting a new theme. This year marks 46 years since the June 16th tragedy, and the theme for Youth Month was “Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods and the Resilience Of Young People For A Better Tomorrow”. This is a deeply challenging theme, with youth unemployment in South Africa sitting at a whopping 65%. As Youth With A Mission in Muizenberg, we are made up of so many young people, many of these being from South Africa. In light of the theme of this year’s Youth Month, we should challenge ourselves to consider how we, both individually and at large, are being actively involved with the promotion of sustainable South African livelihoods, and how we are contributing to building a better tomorrow for this nation we have dedicated our hearts to. Moreover, may we always carry the history of this land in our minds, hearts and spirits – and always do our best to honour it as we navigate life in a land so close to the Lord’s heart. May we always be cognisant of the stories that this country is built upon, and remember to honour the legacies that have brought us all here – growing in love, compassion, respect, empathy and kindness – for this beloved nation. 

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Archives from Defiance against Apartheid, South African History Archives.

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