THE meaning of june 16 has vanished

REVERED: Poet Don Mattera. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 21/04/2005. © Sowetan.
REVERED: Poet Don Mattera. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 21/04/2005. © Sowetan.

TIME calls for a stock-taking of our history. There was excitement about June 16 some years ago . The intellectual interest or political excitement ended on the 30th anniversary of June 16. There was still that spark in the powder keg.

I can remember Steve Biko being linked to the anniversary and some other relevant voices who made their debut in the public memory 30 years before when Soweto burnt. There were voices that wanted to start a national dialogue.

I can remember poet Kgafela oa Magogodi asking: "Is June 16 all that it is cracked up to be? What makes it special in our memory? What does this day mean beyond the hollow curios in the museums? The other thing is, how do we arrive at the making of a hero? Who decides who should be a hero?"

Then he came with a resolution: "Personally, I think that the question of a hero is a contested terrain."

There was meaning, there was context, there was style in the way we remembered June 16. Now all that is gone. Some have gone through the process of healing and moving on too quickly than others. The government seems to have taken the "final solution" to treat June 16 and other national events as Moët and Chandon after-parties.

Today, everything is wrapped in the ayoba language - a street understanding of "cool". We can only lay a wreath on a memorial site with a vuvuzela under our arms - and the rest is just a visual feast of gyration mania.

When I think of June 16, the image of Hector Pieterson comes to mind. His image is useful where Tsietsi Mashinini or Khotso Seatlholo, the blood heroes of 1976, have gone to historical oblivion.

But we cannot force the young to stow away this memory in their heads when they could be on twitter catching up with ayoba friends. That is their contemporary memory - that is what they choose to remember.

Don Mattera reminds us that memory is a weapon: "Sophiatown also had its beauty; picturesque and intimate like most ghettoes ... Mansions and quaint cottages ... stood side by side with rusty wood-and-iron shacks, locked in a fraternal embrace of filth and felony ... The rich and the poor, the exploiters and the exploited, all knitted together in a colourful fabric that ignored race or class structures."

What we could do is force the government to make our history to be the centre of national dialogue in schools.