By: Jessica Comley
The inspirational freedom fighter and President, Nelson Mandela, once said these words,
” Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
It is on this day, June 16 that we are reminded of how true and powerful those words truly are. It marks a very significant moment in the history of South Africa. It marks the day where black students gathered on the streets of Soweto to protest being forced to be educated in Afrikaans. It later became known as the Soweto Uprising. But this day is not only a day where students are remembered for their courage and passion, but it is also a day where the recorded 176 students who tragically lost their lives are remembered and honored.
The pages of history are stained with the blood of individuals who believed in causes and died for them. Moreover, history is marked with examples of how the power in standing together for what you believe in can change the course of history. In Russia, women stood in bread queues, starving, freezing, watching their children die and their husbands away to war decided enough was enough. What followed these protests was the most progressive, revolutionary time in Russia, where governments rose, and a monarchy fell. Where wars were ended and wars began. Where memorable leaders rose and kings fell. Where Russia moved from a place of supreme poverty and slavery to rising into becoming the second great superpower rivaled only by America in the years following the Second World War. And all of this began with the starving, desperate plead of a couple of hundred women in a bread queue in what was then Petrograd, Russia. Furthermore, more recently we have seen a surge of similar revolutions in Egypt and Libya.
In the same way that the people of these countries are cemented in history as people who changed the course of history, those twenty thousand students who partook in the Soweto Uprising, changed the course of South Africa. Through their actions they demonstrated how there is great strength against great adversity when people stand together. The shocking deaths of those 176 children sent shockwaves throughout the world– calling for an end to the Apartheid Regime that continued to relentlessly oppress black people as well as other minority groups. In the aftermath of this display of opposition, the ANC was established in their leading role in the liberation struggle, international eyes were turned to the plight of discriminated South Africans and there was a surge in internal pro-liberal/equality operations. The protest, despite the immense cost of those fallen, resulted in the international community openly condemning the Apartheid government that was visibly beginning to fall apart at the seams.
However, despite the momentousness of this day, it still remains easy to forget how paramount and significant June 16th was in directing the course of South African history.
We are of a generation that was born in the tail end of Apartheid. The children of the nineties were lucky in the sense that they were involved in something beautiful. We experienced the victory but none of the trials and tribulations that led up to it. We did not work and suffer for the liberty and freedom that we ourselves enjoy and can take for granted. Yet ever so often, on days like June 16, South African youths are reminded of the pain, grief and the trials that others went through to create a more liberal and equal South Africa.
However, June 16 also serves to remind us, as a nation, that education is a gift and a right. That it came at a great cost and is a privilege and should never be taken for granted. For to take it for granted – to throw away our opportunities that can develop us – be it at school, college, or university- is to spit in the face of those twenty thousand protestors who fought for education’s cause and those 176 students who died- who died fighting to learn in a fair and equal way. It makes me so angry that students are so nonchalant about the gift of education when it is exactly that, a gift. In another brilliant article on this blog, a fellow writer cast a glaring light on the lack of places and resources in schools. With this in mind, if you are so lucky to get a place in a good school, to get your matric or to go on to higher education, you owe it to those who don’t get a place, and to those like the students in the Soweto Uprising, or to the students who were badly trampled on just this year outside the University of Johannesburg, to give it your best and to never take it for granted.
The death of children like Hector Pieterson will never be forgotten for the honorable march that they made to create a fair and equal education system and in turn a fair and equal South Africa. I for one, on this significant day, will try my utmost to never take for granted the opportunity that I have to learn and try my best to never underestimate the power there is in unity and one voice to change the course of history.
Liberalist George Weah once said, “My fellow revolutionaries, liberation is a noble cause. We must fight to obtain it.” I am sure that when some of those children gathered themselves together on June the 16th, 1976, they didn’t think that they were capable of making that great of a change. In fact, if I stand in some of their shoes, their situation must have seemed completely desperate and hopeless, but they marched regardless and some marched to their deaths for a cause that they believed in.
Let us follow their example, and never cease fighting for what we believe in, for what is right, for what is just. Let us never stop fighting for equality, liberation and justice. Let us not fear oppressors, power or failing -for we do not stand alone in this struggle against prejudice, judgement, negativity and condemnation. Let us remember those students from the Soweto Uprising on this day, and never take the opportunity to learn and to live in a society, that strives for equality, for granted. And may those who died in the name of the founding principles our country is cemented on, rest in peace.