The impact of June 16 to the current students

The impact of June 16 to the current students

By Mpho Khalo, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History 

The build-up to the Soweto Uprisings

The first question that should be asked regarding the Soweto Youth Uprising on 16 June 1976, is what went wrong. Was this a cry for help? It was unreasonable for the youth of South Africa to be educated with the language they did not understand.

This led to the leaders of the youth to mobilise students, those in the south western townships (Soweto), against and confront the then government. This young and dynamic leadership felt it was in their hands to confront the government and change the status quo. They told themselves that their parents had given up hope and they needed to fix the country. The youth could no longer take the exploitation by the government and the impact it had on their education. On 16 June 1976 the youth were fearless and confronted the police with struggle songs.

Figure 1 : Courtesy of Print Media.

The fearless army

A large number of students gathered in the streets of Soweto demanding that they need not to be taught in Afrikaans. On that day the ‘young lions’ were fearless singing struggle songs and making no apology to the police, parents and the government. Little did we know that this would have a huge psychological impact on the current intake of students – as fearless as they are one need to understand that they are the future of our country. We need to take care of them in order for us to harvest great leaders with aof responsibility. The slogans will not build our future leaders, however, education will.

1986: Ten years later

Ever since the Soweto uprising there was a continuation of class struggle. The youth of South Africa continued to fight for equal education for all at all institutions of learning. The year 1986 was a lawless year where a number of students died due to unrest in the country. However, that yielded a lot fruit within the government. The government started negotiations with the leadership of the political parties and this germinated the seed of hope for the youth of South Africa. This was also done to calm the political unrest and to build the economy of our country.

Post 1994

The first democratic election took place in South Africa country obtained its freedom and unity in diversity among its people. The African National Congress was given the power to rule the country with a two third majority Nelson Mandela was deployed to lead the country. After the 1994 election the new government moved quickly toward race-blind policies in both the structure and funding of education. However, that doesn’t mean that students of all races have equal access in practice to whatever school they might like or that all schools have comparable resources at their disposal. Educational equity will depend on the growth rate of South Africa’s economy and its rate of job creation and on how policy makers weigh additional investments in education.

Figure 2: Courtesy of Print Media.

The born free

The born frees (born after 1994) are the ones fighting freedom and equal education, whereas the 1976 generation was fighting for freedom, black consciousness and the class struggle. Equal education for all gave rise to the FeesMustFall struggles that remain unsolved even today. This is a national democratic question presented at the fifty-fourth conference of the African National Congress: FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL. Therefore, allow me to say that the June 16 generation of 1976 has achieved political independence and the born frees need to continue with economic dependence given the current opportunities.

Figure 3: Courtesy of Print Media.


When looking at the expression in figure 3: “Are violent student protests a mirror of society?“, education is a very important aspect of ideological struggles. Professor Issa G Shivji said: “Imperialist and colonial ideologies get reproduced in our classrooms every hour of the day; militant students and intellectuals therefore have to turn these rooms into sites of class struggles.”


  • G. Shivji, Fight my Beloved Continent: New Democracy in Africa (Southern African political economy series), Faculty of Law, University of Dar es Salaam, 1988. 
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