Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let's School You a Bit About 1976

Sthembiso Sithole

Iconic photo of Mbuyazi Makhubu carrying the body
of Hector Pieterson with the 13-year-old's sister on the side
Many of us have heard our parents talk about 16 June 1976 which was a turning point in the fight towards a free and democratic South Africa. They often tell us that pupils from five schools in Soweto near Johannesburg walked out of the gates in what was supposed to be a peaceful march as they were fighting for a good, adequate education system. Some of us seem to know the story until this point. We also know of the first boy who died, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson. Much of his story is in the Hector Pietrerson Museum in Soweto. Many young people don’t really know the 1976 story before and beyond these points.

I want to take you back to the memories of the dark days of this beautiful land and give you an overview on the causes of the uprising, what happened proceeding the day and how the government of the time dealt with it. I also believe that while it is important to look back in history we should also think carefully about what the South African youth today thinks about the challenges facing us – some of which are unemployment, HIV/Aids and the lack of understand of how political, financial and business structures can be accessed in order for us to truly prosper. The youth of 1976 was fighting for an adequate education system but the youth of 2011 is also fighting for an adequate education system that will prepare them for the future.

In 1953 the apartheid government of South Africa formalised the Bantu Education Act which would mean black South Africans would get an education inferior to that of white counterparts. There was also a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs. The role of this department was to compile a curriculum that suited the "nature and requirements of black people,” Native Affairs Minister and later to be Prime Minister Dr Hendrik Verwoed is quoted saying.

"Natives [black people] must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans [whites] is not for them," Verwoued once said. Black people were to receive an education that would lead to them serving the white man or going back to homelands – they were not to have an education that would allow them to prosper and be on equal footing with white people.

As a result of black people being forced to learn in Afrikaans they then decided to choose English as a language of choice, the homelands or Bantustans would use English and an indigenous, African language as a preferred language of communication. Realising this, the government used a 1974 decree to reverse the decline of Afrikaans among black Africans. The Afrikaner-dominated government used the clause of the 1909 Constitution that recognized only English and Afrikaans as official languages as pretext to do this. White students would be in a better position as they were learning in their home languages whereas black pupils would learn in Afrikaans.

After fighting with words and conversations all hell broke loose as in the early hours of 16 June 1976 the high school pupils met in the Orlando stadium to protest against what they felt was unfair in the black education system.

Roughly 176 people were killed, the students fought hard using sticks, rocks, bricks, even schoolbags. The peaceful march had turned violent as the police used teargas and fired gun shots at the youth.

Morris Isaacson High school led by Tsietsi Mashini was among those schools which took part in the uprising. The streets of Soweto were full of teargas and smoke that made the township dark.

Fast forward to 2011 the youth is now facing different challenges which I will discuss in my next chapter coming up in a few hours.

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