1976 Soweto Student Massacre Remembered in New York

By Kwabena Opong

On 16 June 1976, Apartheid South African police responding with teargas and live bullets killed several students who went out to demonstrate against the introduction of Afrikaans as the main medium of instruction in the country’s schools. The day is celebrated now as Youth day in South African. It is also a national holiday honoring all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education.

The root causes for the action lay in years of subjecting black education to a system that sought to integrate students into a racist and unequal economy. By 1975 the government spent about 15 times more on a white student than it did on a Black child. In 1953 the Apartheid Government enacted The Bantu Education Act, which established 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 the black people.” The author of the legislation, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister), stated: “Natives [blacks] must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans [whites] is not for them.” Black people were not to receive an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn’t be allowed to hold in society. Instead they were to receive education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the homelands or to place them in serfdom under whites.

An already volatile situation was worsened by the Department of Education decree that Afrikaans should become the language of instruction in all schools. The objection by the students led to a demonstration that was met with a disproportionate use of arms by the Apartheid police. Several students were killed as a result. In a similar incident in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960, 69 Black South Africans were killed in a demonstration against passes.

This year’s celebration, held in New York, was addressed by Dr. B Jordan a veteran of the struggle who was also incarcerated several times at the same time former President Nelson Mandela was jailed at Robbins Island.  He recounted his experiences as a new teacher who was refused work in his country.  Mr. Jordan identified Nelson Mandela as someone who singularly sacrificed everything to ensure that Apartheid was uprooted in South Africa. He mentioned the global recognition Mr. Mandela has received as a result of his fight for equality and against racism. Jordan described Mandela as an embodiment of what Shakespeare described as the greatest measure of a man. The veteran freedom fighter also acknowledged others like Walter Sisulu who also was imprisoned with Mandela.

Mr. Jordan said he had to flee to Zimbabwe, but was repatriated back to South Africa the first day he started teaching. He later went to Cape Town University where he studied law. The octogenarian freedom fighter said he eventually fled South Africa first to Botswana and then to Zambia from where he moved to the United States.

In a question and answer session, a few eye witnesses to the massacre described their experiences.

Entertainment was provided by Tuelo Minah who sang some South African folk songs.

Posted by on Jul 12 2013. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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