It should never have happened

2009-06-12 00:00

IN commemorating June 16, we need to start by acknowledging that June 16 was not supposed to take place. We need to avoid romanticising this day as if it was part of our plan to alert the world about the South African struggle for political emancipation.

No one should have died on June 16. It should have been a normal schooling day, but it was not. June 16 radically changed the course of the South African struggle for social justice.

Early in the morning, police fired venomous bullets into the young body of Zolile Hector Peterson, putting a brutal end to his life. It was the lens man, Alf Khumalo, who froze the image of a dying soul, carried by a revolutionary Tsietsi Mashinini.

Thousands of other young people died at the hands of the South African Police. Before Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president, South Africans marked June 16 in memory of the many young people who died in Soweto for their dream to learn and learn in the language of their choice.

Since then, there has been a commitment from the government to do everything possible to ensure that our children get accessible and quality education that will enable them to realise their personal dreams and those of their families.

Today youngsters don’t have to die in order to get quality education. That there is no need for June 16 to reoccur needs to be celebrated, especially by young people of this country. Young people need to recognise and celebrate that this government has created a stable democratic society in which there is no need to throw stones at heavily armed hostile police forces.

Thanks to the sacrifices made in 1976, today no one can be denied access to education because they cannot afford to pay school fees. As it was proclaimed by the class of ’76, education today is a right for all and not a privilege for the few.

Today no school can turn away a pupil just because he or she is black, gay, Rasta or belongs to the Congress of South African Students. Because of the sacrifices of the class of 76, poverty cannot determine who goes to school and who does not. Thanks to the introduction of the National School Nutrition Programme, even those young ones who come from destitute families can go to school and get nutritious meals like all children.

Despite these and numerous other breakthroughs made by the government, there are still many challenges. After all, the struggle for social justice does not have an expiry date.

Some young people still have to swim across rivers on their way to school. Others still have to dodge thugs and sugar daddies on the streets of their townships and locations. Some go to school leaving behind terminally ill parents, while others are forced by HIV/Aids to look after their parents and siblings. These are the everyday struggles that young people of today have to fight and conquer.

There are some rotten potatoes (sex pests) among our teachers, and the Department of Education is pulling out all the stops to ensure that they are exposed and punished. All these anomalies take us many years back, but young people of this generation, like the young people of ’76, need to live for something much bigger than them. They need to understand that they can change this country to be greater than it is.

Young people themselves need to see to it that school boys don’t go to school with lethal weapons. Young boys and girls must stop at nothing to expose those teachers who sexually prey on children.

It is often said that in times of danger there is unity, in times of victory, euphoria and in times of peace, amnesia. These are times of peace and stability in our country and our province. Our main struggle is now a struggle against forgetting. We cannot afford to forget the sacrifices that were made by the selfless young people of 1976 and beyond. We need to be constantly reminded that peace and freedom did not automatically occur. Young people died, and to them we are forever indebted. Aluta continua.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is a communications official at the KZN Department of Education. He writes in his personal capacity.

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