Youth Day 2022: June 16 History And Why It Is Trending

Today, Thursday, May 16, is Youth Day in South Africa – a period of celebration and reflection, a day to interrogate the past and plan for the future.

By default a public holiday in South Africa, that day is also used to celebrate South Africa’s diversity and the Soweto Uprising of 1976. Today is June 16, precisely the day the Soweto Uprising began. That insurrection, spawned by the Bantu Education Department’s insistence that Afrikaans be used as the medium of instruction in Soweto high schools, continued for the next two days.

The uprising quickly spread across other South African towns. What started as a peaceful protest against the government’s directive turned bloody when heavily armed police lobbed tear gas canisters at the protesters and opened fire on them using live bullets.

Images of the massacre circulated internationally, provoking revulsion and condemnation from the international community. Those fleeing the pogrom at home joined the exiled liberation movements overseas.

On the third day of the uprising, over 170 people died, and over 1000 others were injured. It may have been years since that bloodbath, but memories of the incident remain, and it’s doubtful it will ever be erased. Each year, South Africans remember.

It’s exactly 46 years since the Soweto Uprising, but the memories of that tragedy are as fresh as can be. It has often been said that when a people have no sense of history, they retrogress.

That’s the reality the South African government has been trying to stamp in the consciousness of South Africans following the abolition of apartheid in 1990. So each year, South Africa has June 16 as Youth Day to commemorate the massacre of students in Soweto.

While that day was celebrated before the present, it gained greater resonance with the advent of social media. Youth Day is trending at the moment as almost every South African is talking about the day, its historical characters and significance.

On social media, topics and hashtags trend because thousands and sometimes millions of people are talking about them. The algorithms pick up the trend, and it’s amplified for the world to know what’s happening.

Of course, Youth Day in South Africa differs from International Youth Day, which will be celebrated later (in August). The South African version throws up images of racism and disempowerment. The other version celebrates the youth as the vehicle to a place in the sun for the world.

Happy Youth Day, South Africa!

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