June 16 1976: Soweto Uprising (Youth Day)

In 1953 the Apartheid Government enacted The Bantu Education Act, which established a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs. The role of this department was to compile a curriculum that suited the “nature and requirements of the black people." The author of the legislation, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister), stated: "Natives [blacks] must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans [whites] is not for them." Black people were not to receive an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn’t be allowed to hold in society. Instead they were to receive education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the homelands or to work in labouring jobs under whites.

The African Students Movement, founded in 1968 to voice student grievances, changed its name in January 1972 to the South African Student Movement (SASM) and pledged itself to building a national movement of high school students who would work with the Black Consciousness (BC) organization at black universities, the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO). This link with BC philosophies is significant as it gave students an appreciation for themselves as black people and helped politicize students.

So when the Department of Education issued its decree that Afrikaans was to become a language of instruction at school, it was into an already volatile situation. Students objected to being taught in the language of the oppressor. Many teachers themselves could not speak Afrikaans, but were now required to teach their subjects in it.

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Never forget.


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