Steps To Become

Breaking News

#Sarafina 16 June 2016 vs 16 June 1976 Hector Pieterson will cry

Soweto Day.  Bloomsday.  Youth Day.  16 June 1976.
These are some of the names by which some of us have marked this day.  And in 2016, as we commemorate the fortieth year since those seismic events in Soweto, we are afforded the opportunity to gaze back into the past from our present vantage point, and to imagine a gaze from that past into our present.  It is a moment to take the measure of ourselves, our society, and the progress we have made, and the business we have not addressed since that dry white season in the middle of the 1970s.
Nostalgia, tempting as it may be, is never productive when looking back into the past.  Having been interpreted through dramatic theatre, musical theatre, journalism, novels, documentary films and television programmes, and scholarly books, our encounter, and our re-encounter with June 1976, is now forever coloured by the events which it inspired, and other events which came after it.
Partly, in South Africa, though it is not unique to this polity, the past is seen as nothing but the seeds which gave rise to the present, and the present as the inevitable consequence of the past.  Occasionally we dip into alternative histories, the ‘what if’ game of imagining a different turn-out for the events of the past, and how the present would be different as a consequence of such a change.  But mostly we accept, because we are taught to, that our past – collective, individual – is static and contained.
The ‘freedom’ (blankly stated, or qualified, or ironized) of the post-apartheid state is couched as one of the fruits of the sacrifices of the young people who went into open revolt against the white supremacist, fascist, Christian nationalist, racist, violent apartheid government and its security forces in 1976.  The cause of the insurgent uprising: the language in which Black children were to be instructed in apartheid’s Bantu education, which later was also called ‘gutter education’.
But, of course, the question of the language of instruction has not been as easily solved or resolved as many would have imagined, and now misremember.  Forty years later, for those who have ears, the concern with the language of instruction remains a thorny issue.  But in 2015, university students across South Africa began to demand wholesale changes in the organisations which constitute higher education in the country.  The vestiges of the colonial and apartheid past, along with the troubling shifts introduced in response to the neoliberal phase of multinational and transnational capitalism into South African higher learning, they insisted were structural violations of the very freedom they were supposed to be beneficiaries of.
The cry for the decolonising of higher education in the post-millennial post-apartheid state became more vocal.  Debates about what that means and how it could be achieved became increasingly urgent business not just for students, but for academics and managers in the system.  The question of language, and the politics of the status of indigenous African languages in relation to the dominant languages which were the official languages of the past, inevitably arose.  This time it became less about the compulsory institution of one language (Afrikaans) as a medium of instruction, but about the erasure and neglect of at least nine of the country’s eleven official languages in tertiary education. 
The responses from various actors to the etiolated status  Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu across higher learning organisations, have been inadequate.  Not least among these actors has been the post-apartheid government.  The work of 1976 is not complete.  It was not enough to abolish one language as compulsory.  The post-colonial state also has a duty to provide resources to engender equal status to the other nine languages it has chosen to recognise as official.  Anything short of that is to speak equality but practice inequality.  And beyond that, an even more thorny issue, is the decolonisation of Afrikaans itself.  What was mistaken for a master-tongue of white supremacy, invented in the nineteenth century as such, had, in one of those rich ironies of history, its origins in the mouths of slaves, after all.  And the descendants of the original speakers, Black subjects in the post-Black Consciousness sense, continue to speak it, and increasingly to write in it.
There is much to mourn about 16 June 1976.  Children died.  Not just on the day, but in the weeks and months and years and decades after.  The open revolt, the political insurgency of those young people rising up against the most militarily sophisticated and powerful state in the region, is integral in the down-spiral of legislated apartheid over the 18 years which followed.  Those of us who lived through those months and years remember other dates, other names, lists and lists of the dead, the assassinated, the ‘disappeared’.  And every June, in the dry white season of Johannesburg’s winter, we remind ourselves not only of what was, but of those who are not among us.
Today this fragile egg called the post-apartheid nation marks the monumental four decades since the revolt.  But among us are people who bear the scars of their losses: their children, their friends, their classmates, human beings whom they knew, and whose names are intimately familiar despite the passage of years, and the monumentalising of events in larger stories about ‘freedom’ and the birth of a nation.
16 June: for some it will now be forty years since the disappearance of a smile, a laugh.  As we are asked to mark Youth Day, some among us mark Soweto Day, and other still, privately, mournfully, as the day someone they knew and loved, cherished as the face of the divine, a friend, a playmate, was extinguished.  We dare not leave them disremembered and unaccounted for.
There is much work that still needs to be done.  The past is not fully undone.  Some business remains unfinished.  The insurgency of 16 June 1976 was against a system of values and its devaluation of Black people that we have not yet fully dismantled in South Africa.
A Luta Continua.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner