Youth Focus – A lesson in blood

2012-06-16 11:54

June 16 is a reminder to keep moving forward

On 16 June 1976 a peaceful demonstration by students against the system of Bantu education and the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction led to a nationwide uprising that changed the South African political and social landscape forever.

Many were shot dead by the police and thousands of students went into exile and became refugees in foreign lands.

Ten male students and I were subsequently arrested, detained and later charged by the apartheid government with sedition and for leading the student protest and allegedly inciting destruction of property and thereby undermining law and order.

The 1976 uprising was a wake-up call to all sectors of society.

It gave new meaning to the spirit of resistance, the civil rights movement and black power among black communities in South Africa and elsewhere, including that bastion of white supremacy, the United States.

It also engendered fear, confusion and insecurity among white people in general, and in particular supporters of the racist government of the day.

The government responded with an iron fist aimed to crush the soul and aspirations of the oppressed.

Twenty-five years later I feel that I should make a contribution to the nation’s collective memory and share my harrowing experiences with the world, and especially with the younger generation.

My book, Open Earth and Black Roses, attempts to give credit for emancipation of black people where it is due.

Although I acknowledge the key role played by the liberation movements, I believe that the movement was a product of sacrifices and the determination of all our people against the odds.

They are the invaluable progenitors of our aspired future.

I cherish my past in the dusty streets of Zola, Soweto. My political and social consciousness was nurtured within the humble surroundings of my home, community and its institutions.

I drew my spiritual sustenance from my mother and father’s church. In the shadow of Bantu education exceptionally strong men and women moulded the minds and spirits of the liberation generation.

At the dawn of the 21st century we continue to participate in complex struggles.

South Africans, in particular black women, should help to reconstruct and reinterpret the social, political and economic forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, our context.

Fresh perspectives may arise from the hearts and minds of women who have been silenced for too long.

We need to transcend the limits set by biased, incorrect and often derogatory interpretations of the context.

Male or party political perspectives are showing themselves to be counter-productive and unintentionally sabotaging our ideals.

Why is Robben Island a symbol of our liberation struggle whereas Kroonstad Prison, where women were incarcerated on political grounds, remains unknown?

I believe it is our responsibility to deepen our understanding of the lives of our people, the kind of institutions and grassroots leadership that influenced young people and gave them platforms of self-expression, nurturing, growth and development.

We have not yet reached the end of our journey.

The youth and our children should build on the foundation of our struggle and give practical meaning to the driving values that underpin a free and liberated country.

My book is an acknowledgment of men and women who provided leadership, guidance and encouragement to the young.

They built where the system was destroying. They gave their children a chance to live and dream in very difficult circumstances. An otherwise lost generation became a liberation generation.

In many ways my story brings back to me difficult times, especially the 80s, which were marked by ideological bickering, and internecine violence within the black community.

During this era we paid a high price in terms of lives, broken relationships and friendships. The scars remain.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has to some extent provided the beginning of a healing process.

It may be argued that if a people do not acknowledge events that blotted their history, they deprive themselves of the opportunity to learn from such moments.

They deny their children the privilege to draw lessons for the future.

June 16 1976 is a story of individual and collective efforts by the youth of South Africa to redeem their dignity and integrity and claim their rightful place in society.

» Mkhabela is chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. This is an edited extract from her book Open Earth and Black Roses

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.