Today is Youth Day in South Africa in remembrance of the Soweto Uprising of 1976.
Tens of thousands of students took to the streets on this day 35 years ago after the apartheid government gave the order that all students in local schools would have to learn in Afrikaans. In local black schools, Afrikaans was a language that neither the students nor most of their teachers spoke. Viewed as "the language of their oppressors,"* young students in Soweto fought back against this order, and some with their lives.
The students walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium for a peaceful rally, but were met by police barricades en route. The police fired shots on the students, sparking riots that continued in the days that followed. Over 1,500 armed police were present and hundreds of students died (reports of exactly how many vary), while thousands more were injured.
12 year-old Hector Pieterson is one of the most iconic images of the Soweto Uprising, as one of the first young students who gave his life on that day. The photo of an 18 year-old boy carried the dying Pieterson as Pieterson's sister ran alongside them is a heartbreaking and haunting reminder of their struggle that captured international attention and condemnation.
Hector Pieterson and the thousands of students who stood up that day showed a strength of spirit and passion that moved their country forward toward 1994. Their bravery will never be forgotten.
*Source: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soweto_riots