South Africans commemorate the 16th of June to serve as a reminiscence of what transpired in Soweto (a township/suburb I have yet to visit) on the said day in 1976. It is the most significant and arguably the most famous youth demonstration in all of South African history. For those who aren’t really sure what happened, I will in summary, elaborate.
Back then black people (mostly of African descent) were confronted by political oppression, extreme social degradation and inhumane economic exploitation. You could argue that there still exists political oppression in the motherland today and you could use the recent public attacks on public protector Thuli Madonsela by leading politicians. You could go on and tell me about how top prosecutor, Glynnis Breteynbach was unfairly suspended after she big names in the political scenery tackled (or at least tried to do so). Secondly, you could argue that social degradation is prevalent today and its prevalence is actually depressing. You could use the racism that we black people have to endure in our country everyday. You could use the stories your parents and all those related to you share about corporate South Africa as one of many examples. You could use the recent forced evictions that took place in Lwandle as socially degrading. You wouldn’t need to go further and tell me about the “open” toilet that once called the shanty townships around Cape Town home or the “still fresh on our minds” Marikana massacre. On economic exploitation you could outline how domestic workers, miners, unskilled labourers and the like are overworked and under-paid. I would never dispute the mentioned points; I would however argue that be it as it may, it was way worse back then.
I will not elucidate why Apartheid was worse than any other post-Apartheid event, including Nkandla and Marikana (without any purpose of insensitivity or disrespect to those directly affected by the massacre). It would be a futile and unnecessary act, because whoever believes that Apartheid did come with some benefits does not deserve to be taken seriously and is not worth anybody’s time.
The education system for black people, otherwise known as “Bantu Education”, was designed to maintain white supremacy, rule and privilege whilst strengthening political oppression, social degradation and economic exploitation of the vulnerable black majority. Many black people did not accept Apartheid and resisted it from its birth up until its very death. The early resistance of colonialism by tribal kingdoms to the days of Bhambatha, followed by those of Langelibalele Dube, Charlote Maxeke and Sol Plaartjie, up to those of Mandela, Sisulu and the like clearly demonstrated this. This demonstration can also be viewed through the formation of the SANNC (later ANC), ANCYL, the formation of the Indian Congresses in Transvaal and Natal, PAC, trade unions, Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement which were all black organisations that counter-attacked Apartheid.
To make matters worse, the Apartheid regime introduced a law in 1974 that required that black students must do half their subjects in Afrikaans. This led to mass failure in 1975 and it became the last straw among the youth. Dissatisfaction among the black masses was reaching its climax. The Apartheid government had weakened major liberation movements during the 1960s through the Rivonia trials and targeting leaders abroad including training bases of MK (ANC) and Poqo (PAC). The youth however was so “pissed” that it no longer waited for their leaders to return and instruct them.
Amaqhawe, young lions like Tsietsi Mashinini organised fellow students to march against the law that had been shoved upon them and as a result, the turning point of the South African struggle against Apartheid erupted.
June 16, 1976 is a day that will never be forgotten in South African history, a day that enhanced what was later known as the
(MDM). Heroes like Hector Pieterson are one of the reasons that I, black as I am, Nkosikhona Duma, am able to write ‘online’ (I am computer literate) in the continent of South America. I am not sure if I would have made it to Brazil had South Africa not been democratic.
The beauty of June 16, 1976 is that it was motivated by the Biko/Black Consciousness Movement, a movement which aimed to change the most crucial part of the South African society and its mind-set. It was not a march of ANC nor of PAC, which were major political parties of the time. Participation in the march no longer meant belonging to a political organisation, but to civil society and unity in fighting for a common cause became a determining factor.
I am thankful for all but at the same time I feel great responsibility to make sure that all the hard work of Amaqhawe ase Azania is not in vain. The minimum that you and I can do is to practice our basic rights with responsibilities of course. Guard our democracy!
Nkosikhona Raphael Duma
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