45 years ago, on the 16th of June 1976, twenty thousand (20,000) students in Soweto, South Africa took to the streets to protest.
Their reason was a decree recently issued by the colonial government to the effect that the language of instruction in schools would now be Afrikaans as opposed to English. For the children of African descent who were already struggling to study in a foreign language – English – the decree that they would now need to start learning in Afrikaans didn’t sit well. English they could tolerate as it was deemed an international language, but Afrikaans was simply a language of their oppressor. So the children took to the streets to fight for their right to be taught in their own language and on what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, they were met by police and law enforcement officers who, in a bid to disperse the crowd, opened fire, killing hundreds and injuring thousands in what has now come to be known as the Soweto uprising.
In 1991, the Organization of African Unity initiated the Day of the African Child to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. The day is also meant to raise awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.
Looking back on the 16th of June 1976 one thing particularly stands out, the bravery and sheer determination of those 20,000 plus school going children in standing up for their rights and fighting for what they believed in despite the circumstances. Their bravery eventually led to the adults in South Africa and the world over to finally declare “enough is enough” and work together to fight to bring an end to Apartheid.
Bravery and determination are two things which inherently characterize the African child. Bravery, to face head on any challenges that life throws their way and a determination so profound that the lack of adequate opportunities or resources is not enough to stop them from achieving their goals.
Take a look at Wangari Maathai, a village girl from Central Kenya who beat the odds and rose to be the first African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize; or Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the seventh Director-General of the WTO who rose to become the first woman and the first African to serve as Director-General to one of the largest global organizations. What about Aliko Dangote, Trevor Noah, Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie, Lupita Nyong’o and countless other children of Africa who have risen above the odds to excel in their chosen fields.
All these serve to show that given the opportunity, the African Child has a lot to offer the world. And so this year, as we celebrate the Day of the African Child and look at the progress made in the implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children, let’s strive to do better. To create equal opportunities and safe spaces for the African child to not only live but also thrive.
Once this is done, we can sit back and watch as the African Child conquers the world.