The month of June is Youth Month in South Africa. It is used to commemorate the Soweto Uprisings that saw almost 174 people killed by the Apartheid police in just ten days of the protests.
On the 16th of June 1976, learners from different schools in Soweto gathered in protest action against the government’s decision to have Afrikaans as a compulsory language in the schools.
However the police did not take the protest action lightly and they responded with teargas and live ammunition in an effort to disperse the angry learners, in turn leaving a trail of dead bodies.
SADC News caught up with Antoinette Sithole (59), who was also part of the protest action that left her brother Hector Pieterson dead. Sithole is the young girl that can be seen running next to Mbuyisa Makhubo who was carrying Pieterson’s body in the famous June 1976 picture taken by the late Sam Nzima.
“The pain is there but at times I am like well it happened and there was nobody who can do anything,” said Sithole.
Sithole added that June 16 every year serves as a reminder of what happened in 1976, this year it is just unbelievable because: “We did not even think that we would get to 43 years later after those deadly protests.”
The face of South Africa’s education
However, Sithole said that the struggle for better education still remains.
“I don’t think we should celebrate June 16 because I don’t see anything better coming through our education, if we were celebrating that at least we have reached those goals we have set for ourselves that would be something you know,” she added.
She emphasized that in 1976 the protest action stemmed from being oppressed by the system.
“But now we are no longer oppressed, so what is happening? asked Sithole, “we need a good and excellent education that competes with other countries out there, that means we should level up.”
Nkanyiso Nqulunga who is an activist for the 2015/2016 #FeesMustFall protests that rocked the country said: “It is time for 2019 youth to take education serious, so all those who fought both in 1976 and in the #FeesMustFall protest action did not do it in vain.”
In 2015/2016 young people took to the streets in protest over high tertiary fees, demanding free education.
Nqulunga has been fighting for the rights of those students who got arrested during the protest action, in an attempt to get them freed from prison said the struggle has now changed from the language issues of 1976 to the struggle against the system itself.
“I would compare the youth of 2015 #FeesMustFall with the youth of June 1976, they both struggled even though the struggles are not the same, the other one was struggling for language but now we find ourselves struggling about the system itself where the language that is being used is being established on,” Nqulunga said.
We can only commemorate
Sithole, who runs the Hector Peterson Memorial Museum in Soweto, has encouraged the current generation of young people to go back in remembrance and commemorate those who fought.
“It is better if we commemorate as we still have to go back there and remember those who fought, so that we can do better ourselves, because they fought for us, they opened the door for us,” she added.
The Hector Pieterson memorial and museum situated in Orlando West in Soweto is located only two streets away from where Pieterson was shot and it operates on a daily basis, giving more information about the events that lead to that fateful day.
The memorial and museum was opened in June 2002 in honour of his memory, also to commemorate the lives of all the students who took part in the protests of June 1976.
Koketso Ramorei is a journalist and news editor of SADC News with years of experience in a number of genres including sports, politics and community reporting. He has worked for a numerous publications including The Citizen Newspaper and is a former editor of a Johannesburg-based off-campus publication called The Waldorfian Times.