Reminiscing about the horrible events around June 16
FOR some, June 16 is yet another public holiday in South Africa . But for most, it is a day that helped shape the future of this country.
The Children of Soweto is a fictitious account of the events surrounding what has now become known as Youth Day.
Mbulelo Mzamane does an excellent job describing what happened during that dark period in 1976 and also captures the significance of standing up against oppression.
A great example of such oppression is when the apartheid government banned the novel when it was first published in 1982.
It was re-released this year, for literary study and is aimed at high school pupils.
The three-part, 276-page book chronicles the lives of a group of youths during and after the Soweto uprising.
The novel is a trilogy and Mzamane uses different voices in each book to tell the story of the days before, during and after 16 June.
In book one, Sabelo narrates the tale of a group of pupils living in the big, vibrant township and about their struggles. Their growing frustration over "the system's" decision to introduce Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools is well documented. Their plans to refuse being taught in a language they hardly know and receiving an inferior education are laid bare in book one.
Book two tells about the the day of the march and ensuing riots through the eyes of a black man and a white man. Sipho (no surname) and Johann Venter are colleagues returning from work. It is dangerous for the Afrikaner to be in Soweto, especially on this day. The struggles of Sipho, his friends and family to deal with the situation outline the tense atmosphere on this day.
Book three, by far the most compelling, is narrated by Mazwi. The days after the uprising are chronicled in great detail. One really understands the gravity of the situation and just how brave the youngsters were.
Through fictitious characters, Mzamane describes what must have been happening and going through the minds of the people who were present then.
A character named Tsiesti (presumably Mashinini) is there too.
What comes to mind while reading this book is the sacrifices of the pupils . They were tortured by the police and m any had to flee the country. More than anything, they sacrificed their lives for their cause .
One ponders whether the current generation of pupils would make the same sacrifices for what they believe in?
The book is written in English and many of the Zulu and Afrikaans words used unfortunately lose their meaning in translation .
Often, Mzamane diverts to explain something that is not of much significance, which detracts from the main point. Despite that, the book is easy to follow. Mzamane is not explicit in describing the horrendous acts of the police, but takes great care in telling everything in thorough detail.
The book is aimed at the younger generation , yet older South Africans would appreciate it too.
Mzamane, having being partly educated overseas and held high positions in local tertiary institutions, captures the importance of this time and succeeds in holding the interest of the reader with interesting anecdotes between the more serious topics.
Overall, this book is a nice and simple read for people who care to reminisce about this historic time.