Each year on June 16, South Africans celebrate Youth Day. It is a day of reflection, where we are called to think back on the youth who rose up to add their voices to the struggle against apartheid rule.

It has been memorialised as a public holiday, to honour those who fought bravely, simultaneously offering encouragement to our youth, that their voices matter too.

Why do we commemorate Youth Day?

Youth Day (formerly known as Soweto Day), marks a day in history where more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto mobilised a protest against the strict and derogatory apartheid regulations regarding education.

The introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953, meant that all children were required to attend government school. Classes and material were regulated, according to what the government deemed ‘suitable’ for each race. Black South Africans suffered heavily under this ruling, as schools were poorly maintained, overcrowded and lacking trained teachers.

When in 1974, it was made compulsory for schools to teach material in Afrikaans together with English, students decided that enough was enough. Demonstrations and protests began to bubble up and on 16 June 1976, it was the biggest of them all. This time, the police got involved, turning violent on the young crowd. Teargas was fired, followed by live ammunition, killing approximately 700 hundred people that day.

Among these, was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. A photo of his sister, Antoinette Sithole running alongside Mbuyisa Makhubo, who was carrying Hector after he was shot, has become a global signifier of not only the traumatic events of the Soweto Uprisings, but also the brutality of the oppressive apartheid system.   

It is a day that bears heavily on this country, but which reminds us of the power of the youth and the importance of fighting for equality. Commemorating Youth Day means respecting those who were brave enough to stand up for what is right.

How can you celebrate?

There are several ways you can spend this holiday, enjoying the rest that comes with a day off, yet also being mindful of its meaning.

Read stories

–          It is important to be familiar with our country’s history and to understand the gravity of memorialised days. Take some time to read stories of those who were there, including Hector’s sister, Antoinette; journalist Sophie Tema Mosimane; and Sam Nzima, the photographer who captured the famous picture of Hector.

–          Read up on what the significance of this day means to our current youth and what changes they would like to see.

–          Engage with positive and inspirational stories of young people continuing a legacy by adding their voice to the movement of change.

Visit a museum

A beautiful way of commemorating Youth Day, is to open your mind to learning. South Africa has several museums dotted throughout the country to teach and to inspire reflection:

–          Situated in Orlando West, Soweto, near the place where Hector was shot, is the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. The exhibit shares stories, photographs and documents of the events that took place in 1976 and offers a carefully thought-out walk through the past.

–          South Africa’s Iziko Museums often open their doors for free on Youth Day, celebrating the ability to learn and the importance of empowering our youth.

Enjoy the celebration of young talent

Youth Day is often celebrated with concerts and performances that showcase young talent, inspiring hope in the possibility of change and progression. Take a moment to do a quick search and see if there are any items taking place near you or online.

Support programmes initiating youth empowerment

In charging young citizens of this country with the tools they need to make their own impact, why not take Youth Day as an opportunity to support initiatives that are focused on youth empowerment?

A past clientThe Good Work Foundation – aims to equip young people in rural areas with skills that are required in the 21st Century workplace. We have designed e-learning programmes that supplement the South African school curriculum, teaching children and young adults how to use technology in meaningful ways.

Our hope is to close the digital divide that has formed as a result of the apartheid legacy, striving for a South Africa in which each student has the opportunity to be a true learner.

Celebrating Youth Day comes in many forms. We hope to have inspired you to engage with this day in a meaningful way; one that teaches about the past, yet also encourages our hearts for the future. Think how you can get involved and help us make our vision come true.