International Day of the African Child: Remembering The Soweto Student Uprising

Today we celebrate the International Day of the African Child! Africa is a continent rich with culture and history so it is hard to pin down just one event to highlight on this day. However, June 16th also marked the 44th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising of South Africa which we will explore today. 

To understand the significance of The Soweto Uprising, knowledge about the Apartheid In South Africa is necessary. The Apartheid was a period from the 1950s to the 1990s of segregation. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word for apartness, the language has Dutch origins, but was brought to South Africa by White settlers. White South Africans were a minority, but owned most of the land and held the political power of South Africa. Negative sentiments towards Black South Africans strengthened the racist divide so much that laws were created to further oppress the Black majority. Interracial marriages were banned, certain jobs were reserved for only White people, and Black people could not take part in politics outside of areas designated by their White oppressors. Fundamental rights were snatched away from Black South Africans. 

Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg By S’busiso siso – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In 1974, schools made it mandatory for all students to be taught in Afrikaans even though Black South African students had been primarily taught in English. Witnesses to this law and the subsequent uprising recounted their outrage at being forced to learn already difficult subjects in a new language. And to add insult to injury, students had to learn what they dubbed “the language of the oppressor”. 

Students during this time took it upon themselves to organize a peaceful march on June 16, 1976. The march received more participants than predicted as thousands of students mobilized in protest. Despite the peaceful nature of the march, the students were met with hostility. Armed police officers halted the students. Tear gas and bullets were deployed on the thousands of school-aged children in Soweto as the police officers grew increasingly forceful. 

The tragedy of the Soweto Uprising garnered the attention of the South African government and countries all over the world. The news spread like wildfire of the brave students who had resisted the racist laws of their country and stood up for justice only to be gunned down. Rioting and violence spread as Black communities and townships reacted to the harsh treatment that had befallen them. Eventually, the South African government could not ignore the unrest of the country. Protests and continuous exposure by the media led to the repeal of the law that made teaching Afrikaans in schools mandatory. 

The Apartheid was finally ended in the early ’90s as a result of the collective efforts of  Black activists, government reform, and influential, well-known figures such as President Frederik Willem de Klerk, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. 

Although a tragic day in the history of South Africa,  June 16th is celebrated in South Africa as National Youth Day. The Soweto Uprising signifies the importance of education, the power of our voices, and the resilience of children.  These students stood up and fought for their rights; their actions helped shape their entire country and its future.  

The Hector Pieterson Memorial in Vikalazi Street in Soweto is named after the 14-year-old boy who was the first killed by police in the June 16 1976 Soweto student’s uprising. The memorial was created to “honour the youth who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy”.[]By Jorge Láscar from Australia – The Hector Pieterson Memorial, CC BY 2.0,

-Chidinma Opaigbeogu