The Soweto Uprising
By Noor Nieftagodien
Published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd 2014
UNDOUBTEDLY The Soweto Uprising was a critical event in the history of South Africa which piled pressure in the process of dismantling apartheid.
Events of this day, June 16 1976, will always be remembered for changing the course of South Africa politics.
It is a day in which the spirit of unity, bravery and black consciousness was uplifted by efforts of the youths, who, without being told what to do, decided on their own to add fuel to the revolution.
The Soweto Uprising, a book under review this week, gives a detailed account of events that caused the demonstrations and the aftermath of what seems to be a turning point of the history of South African politics.
Written by Professor Noor Nieftagodien, the book looks at the fundamental role black students played in influencing the history of South Africa.
Through the students’ effort, black South Africans managed to counter the problems they were facing as a result of the apartheid system.
Professor Nieftagodien highlights that the main reason for the uprising was the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
“On that historic day, thousands of Soweto’s students marched behind a single demand – ‘Away with Afrikaans!’” writes the Professor.
Through the inspiration of works by writers such as Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah and Martin Luther King, African youths were not apologetic about their move to stand up against the colonial administration.
The students realised accepting Afrikaans would be embracing the culture and tradition of their oppressors.
Acceptance would be acknowledging that the colonial master was welcome to impose his mindset in all the aspects of the African life.
Fundamental about this event is the enthusiasm of students to mobilise a march against the continued use of a colonial language as a medium of instruction in schools.
Refusal to be taught in a foreign language meant that students were against oppression and the disregard of their rights.
The apartheid regime imposed systems such as Bantu education which were intended to perpetuate inequality and breed servitude among blacks.
Africans were treated as third class citizens and it was expected that they accept it.
“Implemented in the early 1950s, Bantu education was designed to keep African people permanently subjected at the lower levels of society,” says the writer.
The Soweto Uprising which carries with it the iconic Hector Pieterson image clearly reflects that the students marched so that continued imposition of Afrikaans on them be stopped.
“To hell with Afrikaans!
Afrikaans pollutes our minds!
Afrikaans retards our progress!
Afrikaans means confined to S. Africa!,” writes Professor Nieftagodien, reflecting on the handmade posters carried by students.
The demonstration reflected the agony of the rest of Africans fighting the ideology of the colonialists.
Students in South African refused to be perpetually colonised mentally and to embrace a language that had no significance in the African culture.
In other words, The Soweto Uprising clearly highlights refusal by the students to continued domination by a foreign force.
“Encapsulated in the rejection of Afrikaans was a series of grievances about Bantu education, the dire conditions in the townships, the suppression of black discontent and the denial of black aspirations,” writes the author.
The book highlights Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC)’s important message to the protestors and the community: “Remember you are all blacks: Whether you are Zulu, Mosotho, Mopedi, Xosa, Motswana, Venda etc. You are one; sons and daughters of the black cradle.
“Beware of false leaders; They will always run in the dark to Jimmy Kruger to sell out the true sons and daughters of the black nations. They are tools and stooges of the oppressive system,” writes the author.
Reflecting on the Zimbabwean context, The Soweto Uprising is a book that portrays the same aspirations that Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Dr Lazarus Dokora is implementing through the new curriculum.
It is a curriculum that seeks to relegate colonial ideologies in our education system to the dustbins of history.