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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16 - National Youth Day in South Africa

On June 16, 1976 police opened fire on a peaceful protest of high school students in Soweto who were protesting the government's decree forcing black students to have their lessons conducted in Afrikaans, the language that symbolized Apartheid. Black South Africans spoke their own tribal language and English, not Afrikaans hence the protest.

Hector Peterson all of 12 years old, was one of the first to be felled by police bullets. Police claimed 23 students died that day but the unofficial estimates are far higher. It precipitated the Soweto Uprising which was the turning point in the eventual downfall of Apartheid at the beginning if the 1990's. Rioting continued for much of 1976 and eventually brought the liberation struggle led by the ANC from the borders of South Africa into Soweto and black townships all across South Africa.

A memorial and museum to the struggle and to Hector Pieterson stands near the spot where he was felled. Below is the picture that became a symbol for the fight against Apartheid. Pieterson was bundled into a press car and rushed him to a nearby clinic but he was pronounced deas on arrival.

The memorial has become a major tourist attraction.

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