June 16 youth day image

Youth Day: 41 years on

Youth Day image 2More than a public holiday – June 16, let us not ever forget the significance of this day.

I remember in 1995 when the public holidays changed. Being a teenager at the time, I don’t recall being told the ‘why’ behind the changes in public holidays. Just that they were different. And the 16 June was a nice one – being placed nicely towards the end of the second term. Only as I began to have a growing heart for justice in our country did I begin to look into their significance.

Last year I tried to explain to my children why they didn’t have to go to school on 16 June. I shared the basic outline of how students were protesting against Afrikaans being instated as the language of instruction in schools. This didn’t seem to have the impact I was hoping for. I then got them to picture going to school next week and the teacher would only use Afrikaans, the textbooks would be Afrikaans, and how (and this is what got my son’s attention) mondelinge would replace English orals.

What I only realised later was that this was only one part of the bigger protest against the education system under the apartheid government. As a teenager, I just thought, “A new public holiday – great!” I didn’t take the time to explore the fullness of what was going on that led to a single day being identified as the one to commemorate.

When I read this article, I was humbled by the range of policies that were deployed in order to entrench apartheid ideology in the places of education. The article identifies them as “oppression though inferior education”. It was so much more than Afrikaans. It was so much wider than Soweto.

What strikes me now is the lingering effects of these policies. There are giant challenges in our schools, as evidenced in various tests and standards. This, as well as what can be done about it today, is the content of another series of blogs. For now, I can simply say: there is much more to still be done.

As you enjoy a day off, I encourage you to read up about the history of Youth Day. Take the time to talk to your children. Share how excellent education is not yet accessible to a significant portion of our country. Recognise and honour those young people who paid the ultimate price for their work to bring about the freedom we enjoy today. And listen to the voices of those young people protesting today – fighting for a better education system for the future.

By Richard Lundie, Common Good

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