National History Museum

Celebrating Youth Day

Youth Day 16 June
1976 – 2016
40 Years

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela

Youth Day is celebrated each year in memory of black learners who protested on this day in 1976 in Soweto against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools, as well as against apartheid.

  • The police reacted violently against the protesters to restore order.
  • High school learners were killed and injured, among them the 12 year-old Hector Pieterson.
  • This photo of Hector Pieterson created international outrage and condemnation of apartheid.
  • Within days violent resistance spread throughout South Africa, leading to the death of more than 600 people.
  • The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Orlando West, Soweto, is dedicated to preserving the memory of the 1976 uprising and the events surrounding it.  The museum contains a moving collection of oral testimonies, pictures, audiovisual displays and historical documents relating to these events.  

Why is Youth Day significant?

  • It is a reminder of the young people who stood up against an unjust system and paid the highest price.
  • It is a tribute to all who strive towards building a just and democratic society.
  • It is a day for the youth to reflect on a successful future through respect for and understanding of the constitutional values, rights and principles of all South Africans.

“The future is in the hands of the youth and Youth Day should remind them of this” - Adv. Johan Kruger (Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights) 2013

Lessons from the past

The youth of today are facing challenges from which they need to liberate themselves, such as unemployment and poverty. 

The youth of today is called upon to rise to the challenge of building a vibrant new society.

What is the relevance of 16 June to us today?

Other Youth Day Celebrations

International Youth Day, endorsed by the United Nations, is celebrated on 12 August every year to highlight the impact of the youth, and to engage the youth of the world in conversations with their local, national, and international leaders.

World Youth Day was instituted by the Catholic Church in 1984.  It is celebrated on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) on a local level all over the world every year, with an international event every two to three years.  The most emphasized theme is the presence and unity of numerous different cultures.