Keep the memories of those who died for liberation alive

On Wednesday the country commemorated the 47th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre.

On Wednesday the country commemorated the 47th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre.

On this fateful day in 1960 the apartheid police mowed down 69 unarmed people who were part of a peaceful protest against the hated dompas.

The march was led by the late leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Sobukwe. Following the massacre, March 21 came to be known as Sharpeville Day. Though not a public holiday during the apartheid era, the day was commemorated by the liberation movements. After 1994 the newly elected black majority government declared a public holiday and renamed it Human Rights Day.

Since then, the day has been celebrated with rallies, mainly hosted by the government.

There has been criticism against these rallies, which normally include a music festival to entertain the youth.

The criticism is that the value of these celebrations is not commensurate with the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives during the struggle against apartheid.

This has been the criticism generally levelled at all celebrations organised by the government to commemorate historical dates in South Africa's struggle for liberation, including Youth Day.

Fortunately, an initiative called "Keepers of Memories" seems set to turn the situation around. Led mainly by survivors of the 1976 student uprisings, the initiative aims to turn celebrations of important historical days into an educational experience.

A founder member of "Keepers of Memories", Boitumelo Mofokeng describes the project as "a pupil-centred initiative aimed at enriching the study of contemporary history".

She said the initiative was also aimed at inspiring and mentoring students, and developing life skills.

As part of the Sharpeville commemoration, "Keepers of Memories", together with the Department of Education hosted a workshop for students in the Vaal area.

A survivor of the massacre, Loutsoa Nkalimeng, spoke about the affect of the infamous pass laws on the lives of African people.

Students were given an opportunity to talk about what having human rights in a democratic society meant for them.

Interestingly, they spoke about how important it was for them to behave in a manner that showed appreciation for the sacrifices of those who died in the struggle.

"Today we are not rewarding those who died for our liberation. We are, in fact, spitting on their graves by abusing drugs and sleeping around," said one student.

They committed themselves to living up to the legacy of the martyrs of liberation by understanding that rights come with responsibilities.

"Keepers of Memories" is a true example of how South Africans can qualitatively contribute towards nation-building without wasting national days on merry-making.