South Africa emerged from decades of apartheid in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected its first democratic black president.
Hassan Isilow - JOHANNESBURG (AA) - South Africans Thursday commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto students uprising, where several protesting black students were brutally shot and killed by the apartheid era police.
Thousands of black students from schools in the Soweto area of Johannesburg were marching on June 16, against being forced to learn in the Afrikaans language, when police opened fire on them.
The exact number of students who died on that day remains unclear, but estimates range from 150 to 700 during the months of subsequent violence
Experts say the student’s protests became a turning point in the country’s struggle against white minority rule.
“The country is celebrating the heroism of students who stood up to the apartheid state as they fought for their rights and the liberation of their country,” President Jacob Zuma told thousands at a stadium in Johannesburg at an occasion to mark the event.
He said students on that day were also protesting against the inferior Bantu education system, introduced for blacks, designed to prepare them as drawers of water and hewers of wood.
Zuma said the apartheid regime disadvantaged the majority of South Africans by denying them quality education, which has immensely affected the country’s economy.
“Given the usage of education as an instrument of subjugation by the apartheid regime, the democratic government decided to make education an instrument of liberation,” he said.
Zuma said education is now a top priority of the government and receives the biggest chunk of the national budget.
The South African leader further said at least 80 percent of public schools in the country do not charge school fees.
“Poverty must not prevent a child from obtaining an education,” he said.
Zuma also criticized violent protesters who burn schools, universities, and public amenities during protests.
Over 15 schools were recently burned in South Africa’s Limpopo province where residents protesting against being moved to another municipality became violent, destroying public property.