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Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .

a different struggle

By Joe Thloloe | Jun 16, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

SIMPLE comparison of the class of 76 with the current crop of youngsters would be unfair because historic events like June 16 are a result of a convergence of various streams that meet to create history's agenda.

SIMPLE comparison of the class of 76 with the current crop of youngsters would be unfair because historic events like June 16 are a result of a convergence of various streams that meet to create history's agenda.

To make any meaningful comparisons, we need to look at the context that provided the young people of '76 with the platform for their heroic actions and then look at the context in which today's young people have to operate.

Several things happened to provide the context for the events of June 16 - the birth of the SA Students Organisation (Saso) at the close of the 1960s; growing anger against apartheid in the black community; the government's decision to impose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at black schools; and the emergence of vocal young leaders like Tsietsi Mashinini.

If Steve Biko and his friends - Barney Pityana, Saths Cooper, Nchaupe Mokoape, Mamphela Ramphele, among others - had not formed Saso at the end of the 1960s, we would not have had June 16. The Black Consciousness (BC) they espoused was the propeller of the class of '76. BC students were angry and wanted to change the world, starting with themselves. They believed the only reason blacks were oppressed by whites was because they accepted to be oppressed.

That anger spread from university students to factory workers and to high school pupils. The early 1970s saw the emergence of Black Consciousness trade unions like the Union of Black Journalists and the formation of the South African Students Movement for high school pupils. Black Consciousness revived the spirit that was broken when the National Party reacted viciously to the ANC and the PAC in the 1960s by executing people and sending others to jail for life.

The university students set a new tone for the struggle for national liberation. They inspired black communities into greater self-confidence and fanned the anger against apartheid and its institutions.

Oblivious to this growing anger, the government in 1976 decided to impose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. The Nats ignored various warning by community leaders and newspaper editorials against this decision.

The brave youngsters of '76 responded by marching to the department of education in protest. They hadn't walked far when the police shot at them. That ignited the fire that burnt until our liberation in 1994. We all know the picture shot by Sam Nzima on June 16 of Hector Pieterson in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubu - a picture that has become the symbol for that tragedy. All in all 23 people died in Soweto that day, with the youngsters retaliating with stones and petrol bombs.

I got to know some of the leaders of the class of '76, like Khotso Seathlolo and Murphy Morobe through journalists who were not much older than them, people like Willie Bokala, Gabu Tugwana and Duma Ndlovu.

I got to know Khotso well on Robben Island. These were passionate young people, who were prepared to sacrifice their very lives to be free. Their community, their nation, always came first.

Let's fast forward to the year 2010.

On the one hand, we still find the angry young people in the black townships; and on the other, we find those who are making their way up the ladder to power and wealth.

The angry ones are at the forefront of the protests over service delivery - they burn tyres and block roads - they are the magintsas who hijack cars for a living. They are the ones whose parents cannot afford to get them into formerly Model C schools. They are the ones who will remain unemployed even after graduating from formerly black universities.

Those who are on the rungs of the ladder to power and wealth are at "good" schools. They barely speak their native tongues. They have plans to grab every opportunity that has been tossed their way by the new South Africa. Their heroes are the Tokyo Sexwales, the Cyril Ramaphosas, the different judges, etc. They are on MXiT, Twitter and Facebook and they Google when they need information. They are in a world where parents talk about "deals worth millions".

The unity that the class of '76 had does not exist for the class of 2010. We no longer have a common enemy to focus on; it's each one for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

The BC philosophy that moved the class of '76 no longer holds true as the new elite try to grapple with the concept of non-racialism in a world created by racism. The irony is that once in a while, we try to cling to ephemeral "national unity" and "national pride" when we have a World Cup.

The agenda the nation agreed to in 1996, in the preamble of our constitution, should be welding us together to:

l Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

l Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

l Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

l Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

If only the class of 2010 could tackle this agenda with the same passion and selfless commitment that the class of 76 demonstrated we would make the second part of our struggle for liberation that much easier.


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