We all love a day off work and school, but even more important than planning a long weekend is remembering why today is a public holiday in the first place.

Almost 40 years ago on June 16, 1976, an uprising began among the youth in Soweto – a township outside of Johannesburg. Many events led up to this uprising, all focusing around a backlash against the apartheid government. Between the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO), young people around the country were influenced by these groups and made aware of the political landscape happening in South Africa. Therefore when Afrikaans (seen by many as the language of apartheid) became compulsory for instruction in all schools in 1974, black students began to mobilise.


The mobilisation came to a peak on June 16, 1976 when thousands of youth in Soweto protested in their classrooms. They then started marching towards Orlando stadium where almost 10,000 unarmed students gathered for a peaceful planned protest. Along the way, security forces tried to stop them with tear gas and warning shots. When the students continued marching, the forces then opened fire with live ammunition.

With multiple youth killed and hundreds injured, the original peaceful protest turned violent. And with it came a much more massive uprising around the country and world. Though the apartheid government was still in power for years after this movement, many view this as one of the important turning points in South Africa. Now marked as Youth Day, June 16 is a day to remember how far this country has come and how far it still has to go.