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regress: june 16, 1976 – youth day

Youth Day, June 16, 1976    What is it? A celebration of pain? Is this a reflection day of what every current youth of every new generation should learn from, or be inspired by? Is this a celebration of what the youth of 1976 stood for or a commemoration of the youth we lost that day? Do we cry or rejoice or just take a chill pill and reflect? Is it a bad day that we do not want to forget? Is this South African Youth Day for all South Africans or is it a Black Youth Day?

Youth Day – June 16, 1976 

This day reminds us of tragic events that took place on the date and took many lives of young black South Africans, by the hand of the law, who were rebelling against the apartheid system that was designed to devalue and enslave black people in South Africa. A series of protests by black students which began on that day in June 1976, with violent and brutal interventions by the, then, South African law. This means that it was ‘ok’ to kill black people at that time.

This tragedy is a very old one. Way way older than the Marikana. 43, in fact, i can size it with a grown man’s age. Every time it’s brought up it evokes a deep sense of pain that cuts far sharp. Every time. 

Refreshed Memory

Will we ever heal? I keep asking myself this question not only about Youth Day – June 16, 1976, but all memorial elements we embrace in our lives, which are a reflection of sadness and agony. Maybe it’s a good thing. You know? Maybe this helps us face our demons to allow our souls to heal and move on. But how much of this regression is enough, to save us from Prozac?

The sad part about apartheid is that it has become difficult to ignore because of today’s wide spread broadcast abilities. It’s now down to the presence of silence and ignorance where these documented acts of racism protrude. Especially with the broadcasts on social media and the internet, for everyone’s palm to connect. Refreshed memories with mixed emotions of the past, it makes it feel like it’s June 17, 1976 all day, everyday.

1976 exhibition recalls turbulent times
Gugulethu, 1976. The police have shot this man and are dragging him away. When a certain newspaper would not publish the picture, the photographer lied to the news editor and said that the police were rescuing the man from the crowd. The picture was used. The only complaint from the government was about showing a policeman smoking. Photo: Juhan Kuus

What other options do we have

Forgive and forget. Maybe that’s a little too cliche and too shallow for anyone to understand the psychological significance of this exercise. We lose too many people in our lives everyday for many different causes, or not. Big and small causes or not. But causes or not. I’m taking from a family hero who lives home to work so that their family could eat. On their way they get brutally assassinated by criminals, with groceries in their hands. We we lay our own to rest and a year later we unveil their tombstone then the memories fade, they’re gone. 

Maybe this ‘holiday’ is not about the dead. Maybe this holiday is a memory of how our own (black people) sacrificed their lives to fight our own (white people) who just got delusional with the idea that they’re better and they deserve supremacy over others. We gonna jump out off the cliff with this one. (remember the divide of the races, colour separation – if it wasn’t about the colour, it was gonna be about something else. 


1976 remembered
A game of football takes place between police and students in Langa during an interlude in the uprisings. Photo John Paisley.


So, we’re still here. The world is changing right in front of us. Mostly, in ways we don’t and probably won’t understand. The idea of being enslaved forever is not a far fetched one, if you look at how the corporates have redesigned the face of basic survival. Our kids are born into expense and debt, inevitably, that we seem to have no control over. Not that its a system that can’t be changed but one that we indirectly choose to ignore. Our investment is on the youth that passed on. Not on the youth that comes after. 

If you think about it, how many successful structures have we built that help protect and empower the youth so they can build better communities in the future? I mean really successful structures. A ‘go to’ place for the youth. After all that fight, and the massacre of the youth of June 16, 1976 we seem to have retreated to the comfort of personal enrichment and winning on the manipulation of the will to build a society.


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