South African National Holidays – Celebrating Youth Day

June 16th is National Youth Day in South Africa. This holiday commemorates how the youth fought against the Apartheid regime, 45 years ago. All the youth around South Africa united against the rule of the day. Townships were set on fire, young people took to the streets to fight for their freedom of choice.

The oppressive regime in South Africa sent out armed soldiers to meet with the youth and stop them from rioting for their right, to learn in their preferred language.

SA Flag

Many young people were massacred on this day, imprisoned and tortured only for marching for what was best for them at the time. Afrikaans was the medium of teaching, but the youth wanted to be instructed in a language they could understand not the language of the oppressor. You might be familiar with the image of Hector Peterson. One of the massacred leaners.

It is difficult to say even though South Africa had 11 official languages, but on that day they chose English as a language of instruction at schools. Which of the 11 languages would have been the appropriate language of instruction? I suppose that is how we ended up with that solution. Choosing an international language was the option and that was not the language of the oppresor.

What is interesting when I traveled to Sweden, Swedish was the language spoken. It sounded as how one of the South African languages would sound if chosen as the language. It could have worked, but which of the 11 official languages would have worked?

Why Celebrate Our Youth.

Now after many years have passed we still celebrate and commemorate how the youth came together in unity to fight for the rights of all South Africans. It is through acts like this that freedom was achieved. So this commemoration is also a way of showing the new generation, what the Old generation did to secure the Freedom that they freely celebrate today.

However, it is sad to see what the youth of today do, to celebrate this momentous day. It might be somewhat understandable why the youth are not motivated to lead a positive life. Now that we have managed to secure freedom the challenges of today make it feel as if, no freedom was achieved. The rate of unemployment in South Africa amounts mainly to the youth is very high, so the youth resort to crime, alcohol, and drugs to numb the feeling of poverty. This is predominant even on the day of celebration.

There is a great need to inspire the youth to celebrate this day in the way that it’s supposed to be celebrated. Showing appreciation for what the youth did in the past. Taking matters into their own hands and dealing with the social-economic situations that they were facing. If the youth of today can face the social-economic challenges today and strive to find means to give them renewed freedom, the day would serve a great purpose. This could pull them out of joblessness, drug abuse, and all the lawlessness. That would be great for our South African Youth.

Instead of commemorating the youths who died to fight for this freedom we go on drink about and waste our lives in drugs, that is no way to celebrate lost lives for our freedom, that is no way to celebrate anything.

The origins of June 16th Commemorations.

Like I said this day is to commemorate what happened 45 years ago. The fight for freedom continued and in the 80s the Youth took to the streets again fighting for the liberation of their Freedom Fighters. The country went into a state of emergency. Young people who fought for the Freedom of their political leaders. The streets were in turmoil and the state was ungovernable.

Madiba Under the Bridge

This put a lot of pressure on the government of the day which led to the beginning of the release of political prisoners henceforth leading to the release of Nelson Mandela.

The youth have played a huge role in the Freedom of South Africa. We commemorate their actions by celebrating National Youth Day on the 16th of June every year. The youth must not forget their contribution to this world.


Popular Culture

This story has been told to the rest of the World through theater works created by Dr. Mbongeni Ngema in his narration of the events of June 16, 1976. The story of Sarafina was told on The South African theater stages under his directorship, the story was in celebration of the youth, first performed at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg in June 1987. The musical premiered on Broadway on the 28th of January 1988 and closed on the 2 July 1989 after almost 600 performances.

The story was about a young girl who has dreams of leading South Africa into the new dispensation as a free female first democratically Elected President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. While the story depicts what happened in June 1976 it does not negate similar attacks that took place in South Africa in 1980.

The story told the inside of the happenings amongst South African youths and the community in general. How they dealt with the suffering, the arrests, and the torture committed by the South African Police.

The world has celebrated the performance of Sarafina which was then later on turned into a film. The screenplay featured Whoopi Goldberg as the activist educator who inspired the children to recognize the injustices that were happening in South Africa at the time. The movie also featured South African actors like Leleti Khumalowho was the lead in the theater play.

These actors are now seen as national heroes for their portrayal of the youth of June 16, 1976.

How We Celebrate the Day

I remember as a young boy celebrating t day. In 1995 the government of New South Africa declared this day National Youth Day in celebration of the progress we had made as South Africans, creating equality for the youth of South African and the contribution of the youth during our fight for freedom.

There is no celebration without a braai in South Africa. Everyone would meet at the central park in our township. Everyone with their Braai meet and cooler bags. The sound system would play music and all the community young and old sing and dance in relation to what the youth had achieved in our fight for freedom.

Youth Drunkenness'

However, as the years went by the celebrations continued to be celebrated by drinking alcohol this was defeating the purpose of the celebration. Now young and younger people started taking on alcohol. It is now more about Alcohol and Drug abuse.

Fortunately, not all activities involve alcohol there are some activities like youth competitions that are held where young people come together and compete in playing music on marimbas. The National Marimba Festival is Celebrated pending the availability of funding.

The festival would take place at a selected school and all young people involved in playing this wonderful instrument would come to commemorate our freedom and what our youth fought for and have done in the past to achieve this freedom through music and dance.

There is still some positivity as you see, South Africans remembering their long-lost brothers who fought against the apartheid regime.


The Rainbow Nation.

This is still a way for South Africans to come together and celebrate our prosperity, diversity, and our freedom. All ethnicity of the rainbow nation will come together around for a good braai and celebrate National Youth Day.

It is wonderful to see something positive coming out of that struggle in the past. While it is true the young people need to find a positive way to celebrate June 16, there is not much that they do with the socio-economic challenges they face today. Unless we find ways to sustain ourselves or create jobs to eradicate joblessness especially for the youth, the freedom feels in vain.

My Family Out on A Picnic! There is hope Says “The Curius”, take a listen.

I hope there could be more that could be done for the youth in this regard. It is hard to see young people without purpose drinking and drugging their lives away.

As a national holiday, they can be so much done for the youth to improve their employment situation and give hope to the nation.


The Youth of Today Continue to Fight For Freedom.

Young people entering universities continue to fight for freedom of education. Higher education is very expensive and not many of the youth can afford it. There has been funding that has been set aside for underprivileged Youth for university but that is hardly adequate. This is not enough, Education costs exorbitant amounts that need to be paid to universities to secure qualifications. Worse after qualifying there is still the problem with unemployment.

The level of poverty in South Africa is still very high and many parents cannot afford to send their children to universities. So the youth continue to fight for free education. Free education was promised to the Youth of South Africa. When the new government was elected, it promised free education for all. Unfortunately, promises get broken especially by leadership. The government has not been able to keep its promise.


The Youth of South Africa has such great potential. It is unfortunate that the potential has not been harnessed. The level of corruption within our governing systems has sent our young people searching in the wrong places for hope. Joblessness and unemployment have crippled our Society our youngsters have lost hope of this freedom that we fought hard to attain but it’s bearing no fruit for those who fought so hard for it.

Our young people still Excel in many fields. We have young artists who have gone far beyond and became national heroes by being the best that they can be.

There is still hope for our youth only if they can recognize the potential within themselves and start a new revolution, fighting for financial freedom, this is so much possible with technology. The ability to connect with the rest of the world through the internet could present that gift of opportunity.

When the youth recognize that new freedom is to be found in entrepreneurship and in them believing in themselves and creating businesses that will sustain them into this new normal. Then we can find new ways to repair our broken society for the youth.

We do not know what the future hold for us Covid-19 added for the challenge of unemployment, specifically Youth unemployment. Corruption has also lead our youth astray. The Youth Mindset is not in the right place, they only see salvation in wrong things, corruption, lawlessness which is quite sad for our Nation.

There is yet hope for the resilient youth of the world. Especially in Africa and the whole world. Let look to the horizon and find better reasons to celebrate Freedom.

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