Friday, March 1, 2024

Is June 16 African or South African?

On Monday, June 16th, a friend of mine asked a fascinating question on facebook. He asked why June 16th, the Day of the African Child, was a public holiday only in South Africa and not the rest of the continent. Some people responded that the carnage and killings that took place on June 16, 1976 only happened in South Africa. What was more interesting was his counter. He responded,” How come we all celebrate Christmas when Jesus was not born in Botswana?”

Quite an interesting perspective I must say. But then again, who would say no to another holiday in Botswana? Yes we have many, but just one more won’t do any harm. I believe the author was right in her post about June 16th. It was a day set aside to celebrate the brevity of the South African youth, when they stood up against the poor education that they was forced onto them by the white supremacist regime. Before 1994, South Africa was an apartheid state and life was very difficult for the black people of that country. Access to many basic needs was determined by the color of your skin. The color of your skin determined what you ate where you lived and worked and even what you learnt at school. In 1976, the youth of South Africa finally stood in unison and said enough is enough. Their fight against the apartheid regime did not come cheap. Many people lost their lives and homes were destroyed. The most memorable incident was when the students of Orlando West Junior High School refused to go to school. On the morning of June 16, 1976, thousands of black students went on a protest rally from their schools to Orlando Stadium.

Carnage ensued as the law enforcement opened fire on the protesting students. That is why we celebrate June 16 today. We
remember the heroes and heroines who died on that fateful day as they fought for their education, their identity and their freedoms. We remember Hector Peterson, the 12 year old student who was killed during the uprisings, whose picture became a symbol of hope and inspiration for many African youth. In 1994, for the first time ever, black South Africans were allowed to vote in the country’s first ever democratic election. It was a watershed moment in South African history, a day that was a long time coming, inspired by the Soweto uprising of 1976. On that fateful day, the youth of South Africa played an important but painful role in garnering the free South Africa that the rest of the world is able to enjoy today.


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