Long languid weekends are what many of us worker bees live and breathe for. Luckily for us, the 16th of June promises just that – a long weekend kicking off on Friday and winding down on Monday evening. The thing is, some of us get so caught up in the holiday that we forget why Youth Day actually exists.
So, what is Youth Day? Youth Day in South Africa, which falls on June 16th, and this year shares with Father’s Day, is a significant date is South African history. It commemorates the Soweto Uprisings which occurred in Johannesburg in 1976.
The protests were staged by students in opposition to Afrikaans as a compulsory teaching medium. According to Desmond Tutu, Afrikaans was associated as the language of the oppressor during Apartheid times, as the then government and the Apartheid system was controlled by the National Party, a predominantly Afrikaans organisation.
At the time, English and Afrikaans were compulsory in schools with little attention given to traditional languages. The premise was that black people would inevitably work for white people and thus need to understand their language. Belying this was the idea that teaching ‘intellectual’ subjects like maths and science in a second language, only introduced half way through their schooling, would put black children at a disadvantage thus maintaining the racial hierarchy of the time.
You can imagine why students were upset. To express their opposition, a peaceful march was staged in Soweto. Unfortunately though, it ended in bloodshed and the iconic image of 13 year old Hector Pieterson lying dead in a comrade’s arms is instantly recognisable to most South Africans.
Today, South Africa, as confused and troubled as we might be at times, has come a long way, and Youth Day reminds us of that. So, in the name of a pleasant long weekend and out of respect for South Africa’s crazy past and exciting present, do just three things:
1) Remember the Past
Take a moment or two to think about what it has taken South Africa to get to where we are today. For a real glimpse into history consider a visit to one of the Apartheid memorial museums.
>In Johannesburg you can visit the Hector Pieterson memorial and museum, situated in Orlando West, Soweto, not far from the original location of the protest. It’s at 8288 Maseko Street.
>In Cape Town, the District Six Museum, while not explicitly focused on children or education, does provide a good look into life in the Apartheid era, especially where forced removals were concerned. Find the museum at 25 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town.
2) Celebrate the Present
South Africa is as vibrant a place as they come, to get a real taster, venture beyond the bourgeois curtain and grab a bite at Mzoli’s said to be the best Sunday jol in Cape Town. This is a butchery cum restaurant cum live music venue which will change the way you see South African society.
In joburg there are many tours which take you through Soweto, South Africa’s biggest township. You’ll learn and laugh and taste some township culture (and food!).
Wherever you are and whatever you do, make sure you take some time out to relax. Visit a nice a restaurant, check out a small game reserve near Durban, Cape Town or Joburg or just lounge around at home.
If you do these three things, you will end your Youth Day weekend feeling relaxed and fulfilled. And everyone likes feeling relaxed and fulfilled!
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