South African Youth Day

I feel a bit sad for South Africa today.  I was really hoping that they would pull off a win against Uruguay.  The Uruguayan team was supposed to be the weakest in Group A and today’s game was the best chance for Bafana Bafana to gain three points.  Since today is a nationwide celebration, Youth Day, I really thought the South African’s would have possessed the inspiration necessary for a win.  They lost 3-0.  I am sure the South African team and the majority of people in South Africa have feelings of disappointment and sorrow after the loss, but I hope they can find hope, inspiration and joy in the fact that so many people across the world now have a better understanding of their Youth Day and why it is so important to South Africa’s past.


Like most Americans, I am aware of the unjust apartheid that gripped the country of South Africa until a mere 16 years ago.  I’ve learned about Nelson Mandela, his long stay in prison, and his rise to lead a country away from pain and injustice.  But before this World Cup, I had never heard about South African Youth Day and didn’t know why June 16th holds such a huge meaning for South Africans.


On this day in 1976, thousands of black children (that’s right, children) created an uprising against the National Party.  The children were upset that the government was imposing a new law that required all schools to teach in Afrikaans and English, the languages spoken by white people. The Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee carefully planned a peaceful march, and thousands of students, from several schools, joined the protest.  As the children marched, their path was barricaded by heavily armed police.  They continued on a different path.  Somewhere along the way, a shot was fired by a police officer (it is debated whether or not the students were throwing stones at the time).  This single shot created a frenzy amongst the children and police, and an all-out riot ensued. 


Twenty three people died that day, and hundreds were killed during the unrest that followed.  Many of these were children.  The Soweto uprising and the action of police and National Party soldiers caused outrage around the country and through out the world.  Several riots and peaceful protests were organized in other South African cities.   Many white citizens were disgusted with the government’s actions and joined with black citizens in calling for change.  Many countries across the world and the United Nations condemned apartheid and the actions that took place on June 16th.  Thousands of courageous children brought an international spotlight to the atrocities and injustice of apartheid and helped to create a movement that would someday overthrow a racist regime.


So yeah, I really wanted South Africa to win today, but I’ll settle for the knowledge that even children can help to eradicate hate from this world.


[Sam Nzima’s photo of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying the limp body of Hector Pieterson, with Hector’s weeping sister Antoinette running at his side.]

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