The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) joins all South Africans in paying homage to the youth who, on the 16th of June 1976, bravely took to the streets of Soweto to protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Their gallant act, in the face police brutality, marked a turning point to the country’s history.

The 1976 uprising was more than about protesting the use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in schools but a fight for quality education and rejection of the oppressive white regime. This youth fully understood the importance of education as the key that opens the door to opportunities and a gateway to a better life. With hardly any resources to make their voices heard, they used their numbers, unity and focus to confront the mighty oppressive apartheid system.

Forty-five years later, great strides have been made to open the doors of learning for all. Our children are getting free education up to tertiary level; we have no-fee paying schools and school nutrition programmes feeding learners to mitigate the brutality of poverty and starvation. More learners are able to attend school through the provision of scholar transport. All this is a result of the struggles of the 1976 youth.

No more will the language be used as an instrument to oppress others, thanks to the country’s constitution that recognises all eleven languages.  Attempts to introduce isiXhosa as a medium of instruction in the Eastern Cape will go a long way towards the realisation of the demands of the students of 1976. This is significant as it will place our children at the same level as those who have English and Afrikaans as home languages who, over the years, were always advantaged.

This historic day is celebrated for the second year in a row, in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic.  This time last year, only the Grade 7 and 12 classes were back in school after two-months of lockdown. This year schools are open to all grades. However, most are on a rotational basis. While this is the order of the day in many public schools, private and affluent Model C schools who have the advantage of resources are continuing with their studies through among others, online learning.  COVID 19 forced a paradigm shift in many areas and caused a rethink in how things should be done and embrace technology. However, more than a year after the COVID 19 hit us, nothing has been done to change how things are done in public schools. This uneven distribution of resources between public and private schools is leading to further disparities in education. We urgently need blended learning to help learners during rotational timetabling. Government has to invest in these educational tools. The struggle of the 1976 Youth was about empowerment and the eradication of inequalities. Failure to provide these education tools would be contributing towards perpetuating these inequalities.

We are currently in the third wave of the COVID 19 pandemic and this is threatening the continued opening of schools, as it will further rob the largely disadvantaged learners of their right to education. We call on government to equip teachers and learners with online gadgets as we are going to continue to see hotspots and in those areas, schools will be closed as part of containing the spread of the pandemic. We also support the call for #datamustfall in order to enable teachers and learners to access information online. In the same vein, we urge President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign, as a matter of urgency, the Copyright Amendment Bill. If signed into law, the bill will promote access to copyrighted educational materials and archives. The current laws around copyright only benefit a few publishing companies that exploit the market with excessive prices. Education is a public good and not a commodity. It should therefore be accessible to all.

As we celebrate this historic day, we cannot help but lament the violence and racism in our schools.  Bullying incidents have sadly cost the life of 15 year-old Mbilwi Secondary School learner, Lufuno Mavhunga who committed suicide, as she could no longer bear the bullying from her schoolmates.

We have also seen the rise of racism in schools as some formerly white schools still continue to use their white privilege to bar learners from entering these schools or ill-treat them by refusing to accept their cultures. Just as the youth of 1976, SADTU will not flinch in its resolve fight racism and ensure that, “The doors of learning are open to all.”

Lastly, we welcome the prioritization of teachers and education support personnel to receive the vaccine. The vaccination of teachers will go a long way towards mitigating fears of contracting COVID 19 and build resilience.

Education is crucial for the youth to construct their future. We therefore need to invest in education that will make the youth to realise their futures. Education is a game changer and an enabler and SADTU’s ‘I am School Fan’ campaign seems to take forward the struggles of the 1976 Youths that fought for violence free communities and schools against a racist and violent regime. We call upon all our people to join hands in denouncing violence and stop the vandalism of our learning institutions. Let’s protect the future of our children by protecting our infrastructure.

ISSUED BY: SADTU Secretariat


General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke: 082 783 2968

Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi: 082 709 5651

Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi: 082 719 5157