As the spotlight falls on the adoption of South Africa’s landmark Constitution, 20 years ago this year, one of its striking features -- the inclusion of the first-ever constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation -- is also under global scrutiny.

The scene is set at the current session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, until Friday 1 July. The Human Rights Council is the UN’s primary human rights body, tasked with advancing and overseeing the protection and promotion of human rights in UN Member States. South Africa is currently represented in the 47-member Council.

Celebrating Youth Day, introduced in the post-apartheid era, always has a historical dimension, but this is even pronounced this year, which marks a landmark 40 years since those fateful events of 16 June 1976. 

We are reminded that 16 June 1976 was a turning point in at least three important ways.

Before thousands of school children took to the streets of Soweto to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as language of instruction for three subjects (geography, mathematic and history), it was still possible to sell apartheid as benevolent paternalism. After the blatant authoritarianism of imposing an extremely onerous policy without consultation or any effort at articulating reasonable grounds as justification, the benevolence-defence was no longer legitimately open to apologists of apartheid. The scales fell of the eyes of many, increasingly also white South Africans.


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