June 16 represents death of madness and rebirth of sanity

07 June 2011 - 10:28
By Oupa Ngwenya

THE founding fathers and mothers of South Africa's democracy named it Youth Day

Those who were there, risking life and limb, touched and scarred by its life-changing events, still call it by its name - June 16 1976.

Those who refused to see the writing on the wall, that the days of oppressive rule were numbered, recall the day with regret, like drunkards deadening their senses in alcohol to avoid the unstoppable march to freedom.

Still others see the day as a holiday to be filled with all the fun and leisure permitting revellers to take leave from serious reflection in honour of those whose memory lies in the silent heart of the earth, as martyrs, and from whose death and blood history made a promise: someday we will all be free.

That was 35 years ago and 14 years before South Africa's founding democratic president Nelson Mandela walked out of prison on February 11 1990.

Mandela's release was not an act of benevolence on the part of the then oppressive South Africa's president FW de Klerk.

History was no longer on the side of De Klerk's government. A week before that, on February 2 1990, the pace of the liberation movement had gathered irreversible momentum.

Oppressive rule no longer had legitimacy to even begin granting freedom to those to whom it was denied. The oppressed had resolved to take their freedom.

Liberation movements were unbanned. The exiles were free to return.

The state of emergency was lifted. The detained walked free from prison gates to make way for an atmosphere giving passage to the birth of a new dispensation.

The unprecedented steps taken to urge towards the celebrated first all-inclusive democratic general elections of April 1994, would not have been as determined without the pace-setting bravery of the generation of change at the helm of June 16 1976.

This is a generation that never saw itself as an interest group for itself but for the greater good of the struggling majority.

While the source of its action was the classroom, the 1976 generation envisioned a single country and the rebuilding of a new and free nation with an education espousing true and common humanity.

But whatever June 16 was meant to be, will irrepressibly always be.

It signifies the inborn ability and awakening of a people to always cast aside what negates their humanity and tramples on their dignity.

The memory flocking back to mind, recalls June 16 like a day that could have begun and ended like any other.

Were South Africa a normal society, June 16 1976 would have ended with common sense being a winner.

In retrospect, demanding a normal and humane educational system in abnormal society was as good as shaking the foundations of a system that prescribed freedom for some and not for others.

Rather than see its ill-conceived foundations dismantled, authors of such an abnormal society responded with usual brute force and predictable horror that did not care it was putting children to wholesale sacrifice.

So did the day end in bloodshed. The face of 13-year-old Hector Pietersen, dying in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubu and her anguished sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, was all what the world came to see to wake up to the savagery of a political system stopping at nothing to sustain itself.

Hector's death not only signalled the shameless kicks of a dying horse, but also the beginning of the end for a political system gone mad.

This is what June 16 1976 represents - the death of madness and the rebirth of sanity.