AGAINST fears that the country would close its door on memory and let June 16 1976 pass unremembered, it was reassuring that there are still people mindful enough to remind all and sundry that the happiness of staging the 2010 Fifa World Cup in this epoch-making June month has not been without a tear, loss of life, limb and property 34 years ago.
Not that the country should be in endless stunt performances of mourning. It is the unforgettable lessons of history that are of concern.
History teaches us that those who ignore its lessons are doomed to repeat its barbaric past. And wounded hearts can only find true healing if the memory of those who fell along the fighting years of liberation, to give birth to this celebrated future, are treated with utmost respect and honour. And that is all what the keepers of the memory of June 16 are asking for.
From history we have learnt that the rule of the oppressors is prescribed by the endurance of the oppressed. In history lies the knowledge for the young to grow with intuitive purpose. Through history, life itself ceases to be a mystery. Charlatans and demagogues may try their chances, but are destined to find rude dismissal into the dustbin of history with the awakening of the people as typified by the 1976 uprisings.
When false prophets had manipulated religion to make black people consent to the big lie that their misery was by God's design, it was the class of 1976 that fearlessly begged to differ, and asked the question Senzeni na? Those that have intimate knowledge of this 34-year-old history remember that song that was sung with unpretentious emotion, unwavering commitment and from a heart of a people in forthright communion with the Creator and believing they were not an accident of His creation, birth or cosmogony. Blackness ceased to be a curse. It became beautiful and something to be proud of. Even in the face of the universality that proclaimed a rainbow, blackness maintained its dignified posture and permanence with no reason to disappear into nothingness. Black people came to accept that they were not non-entities that can only exist by sanction of others.
And when Steve Biko declared "we are building a South Africa that is as beautiful as we are", the Class of 1976 knew that blackness was an irreplaceable, irrepressible and unmistakable fact and part of that beauty. It did not end there. Black children at crèches began to perceive, reflect and see God through their very innocent eyes. In their art, angels, Jesus and God were no longer "only white", but also green, brown and black. In their eyes, the universe reflected the full set of the colours of the crayons they were given, which in Bishop Desmond Tutu's lexicon passes as a rainbow nation.
In the naïve view of the 1976 generation, the land was not a commodity to be sold or bought at market related prices, but something to be loved, respected, protected and to be held in trust for the dead, the living and the unborn by a people-centred state.
In their motherly adoration of the land, the June 16 students preferred to call each other sons and daughters of the soil as opposed to "comrades".
Interestingly too, the June 1976 movement never saw itself as youth, but rather as students. At the core of being students flows the unforgettable lesson that freedom was never free and that we live because others before us had died.