40 Years Ago - June 16, 1976! From Hope to Heartbreak

2016-06-16 05:02

Why are we using June 16 as therapy to heal our current corrupt existence? South Africa's story of today is a story of sadness and heartbreak. This is a narrative of a nation conceived in great hope but has been nurtured into hopelessness. Even the most incurable of hyper patriots and optimists find it hard to deny the fact. All they can do is to rationalize the heartbreak.

This June 16, 2016 as we commemorate National Youth Day holiday, we find ourselves battling a huge monster. It is this year 2016 that news broke on us that political positions are not about service, it is all about power, and power in its rawest, rudest, basest form, power that can be traded in for cash, where the concept of service the people is redefined as a self-serving, self-interested and self centered setup.

June 16, 1976 was the dawn, the decisive point - a mass confrontation with the evil system of Apartheid in close quarters. What seems so special and so radical with what happened in June 16, 1976 is that the student protests went way beyond immediate needs, the Soweto uprisings galvanized the country. The immediate demands of the students was the abolishing of the plans of using Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction in schools. But unlike other protests like when Nelson Mandela banned his identity document and the Sharpville protests that left many people dead, the Soweto Uprisings of June 16, 1976 went way beyond and galvanized the country.

Soon after June 16, 1976, hundreds of students fled the country. The largest chunk of exodus took place in October 1976. Brigadier CF Zietsman in 1978 estimated that 4000 black youth fled the country into Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana.

These large exodus forced those who remained behind into a national conversation. Because many families were affected so a national conversation ensued in soccer matches, hair salons, churches .... everywhere.

The notable prominent Leader of the Soweto uprisings Tsietsi Mashinini fled the country in September 1976. Tsietsi Mashinini is the father figure of June 16. He orchestrated it, organised it, mobilized it and galvanized it. By the time a swarm of more than 20 000 students were marching he was in the front.

Tsietsi Mashinini - the paragon and prominent Leader of     June 16, 1976

I must confess I have read almost everything about the life of Tsietsi Mashinini – this distinguished leader of the Soweto Uprisings of June 16, 1976.

Tsietsi Mashinini was never a communist, that is to say, he was not ANC. That time ANC found its existential expression through communism.  This is what Tsietsi Mashinini told Percy Qgoboza, the Editor of The Word in 1977: “I don't know what is communism”.

Tsietsi Mashinini was a staunch Christian and a prominent leader within the Methodist Church. In 1973, that is 3 years before he led the Soweto uprisings, he was the Chairperson of the Methodist Youth Guild. His father was a preacher within the Methodist Church. Politically, Tsietsi Mashinini was wholly inspired by the teachings of Steve Biko and Abram Tiro of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Many people have asked questions about Tsietsi Mashinini. Why did Tsietsi Mashinini never made any single effort to contact the ANC in his many travels outside the country? Why did Tsietsi Mashinini bypassed Zambia the headquarters of the ANC and instead went as far as West Africa to Nigeria and Liberia?

In Nigeria, he stayed at the Presidential House in Lagos as host of the military leader Olusegun Obasanjo. It would have been far easy and logical for Tsietsi Mashinini while there to request the audience of Oliver Tambo because Oliver Tambo was in Nigeria in 1977 also as a host of Olusegun Obasanjo. Why did Tsietsi Mashinini not made contacts with Oliver Tambo? Or rather put the question differently: did Oliver Tambo contacted Tsietsi Mashinini? And if ever Oliver Tambo or his people contacted Tsietsi Mashinini what did they said to him and what did Tsietsi Mashinini told them?

Both Tsiestsi Mashinini and Oliver Tambo, addressed the United Nations in different times. The two addresses when compared seem radically different. Why is it like that?

None of these questions has an obvious answer. But all we can say without controversy, and all we know for sure is that Tsietsi Mashinini the Leader of June 16 was never an ANC member and seems to have not been an admirer of the ANC.

On the morning of June 16, 1976 Tsietsi led students to meeting points for the commencement of the march against Aparthied. It was a swarm of bees against apartheid. A whole chunk of Soweto followed him. He led from the front.

Tsietsi Mashinini was a responsible leader. On the 19th of June 1976, soon after the uprisings has abated, under huge risk of arrest or sudden death, he went to the mortuaries in Soweto checking on those who have died in the hands of the Apartheid police.

Here is his eye witness account of what he saw. “I got in there; there were shelves… people [corpses] packed in shelves, small kids, adults, fathers, old men, old women, packed all over the shelves, even lying on the floor, just a big heap on the floor. And they had holes in them; some of them were riddled with bullets beyond recognition”.

The Soweto uprisings, June 16, 1976 was characterized by a Renaissance spirit, it was a reawakening against Apartheid and a watershed of political change led and powered by young people, a movement led and galvanized by young people. It was like the old people voluntarily stepped aside and allowed the youth to lead.

In the midst of the evil system of Apartheid, the Soweto of 40 years ago was full of laughter and exuberance of life. The people of Soweto lived above life's turmoils. The happy rich life buttressed the turmoils of Apartheid brutality. They earned a living, they hosted elegant parties, they feasted and joyfully with glad open hearts entertained their relatives visiting from the countrysides in weekends and holidays.

But what does the Soweto of today look like?

To enter into Soweto today is to enter a region of a tragedy of which the youth are mostly villain: High unemployment rate, poverty, neglect leading to increasing squalor. There is high dependency on alcohol and drugs among the youth. Overall faces look sad, defeated and hopeless. Laughter is weak. Smiling is tired.


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