OPINION | Restoring the dignity of June 16, 1976

todayJune 15, 2023 640

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Nothing amazes me more than seeing people who have gone through a life-changing experience from which they logically ought to be the primary source to tell all about it, finding themselves reduced to being students who ought to be taught how it was like to be oppressed.

More bewildering is seeing authors of oppression and descendant beneficiaries going an extra mile to teach democracy to those they were active in denying. It is happening all the time.

It is as if the world would stop revolving around the sun were they to try to stop addiction to sadism, to be simply human. Through eyes content to see no further than their ill-gotten comfort, they deem Black suffering as a given in the natural order of things.

It may be futile to turn the hands of time backwards. But, the white world, in its intergenerational variations across time zones, oceans and continents, should take stock to ask: “What have we done to invest in the energies of the universe to move clockwise towards much awaited common humanity, where there are no white superior or black inferior beings but just people?”

What image of itself does the white world see when looking in the mirror? Is the happiness of whites resigned to the self-perpetuation reality that it cannot live without black misery? As Steve Biko had counseled, the white community should search for its collective inner soul, work within its communities to not only confront the demons ravaging its essence to be dead against changing their ways, but also be human again to see the best they wish for themselves being manifest, unhindered; to affirm common humanity that they were active in denying to blacks.

Had the enlightened amongst whites did as Biko had moved they do; the world would be better than what it is today. Lack of awareness and preparedness on the part of the white community to be human is a contributory factor to the reason the world is such a dangerous place to live in today.

Where they fail to continue being in control, in the usual blatant way placing the spotlight on them, whites apply every trick in the book of deception to ensure the system they inaugurated prior to losing power and vacating office, remains intact, for continuation when Black people come in. This is what is meant by a system.

It should therefore not surprise that when black liberators take over political office, they are seen not to be acting differently than their white predecessor oppressors. This is because Black people have inherited the very same system, against which they were fighting to run the affairs of the nation.

“At issue,” says Joao da Veiga Coutinho in his introduction to Cultural Action for Freedom, “are divergent images of man, or more correctly, an already established image which its keepers are attempting to prescribe for others and a new image which is struggling to be.”

Yes, change has undeniably happened. But it is a change of face and musical chairs. The face of the government is black, but the governing thought process is white. This is where black leaders are the most pathetic to demonstrate qualitative difference.

In analysing power relations between the coloniser and the colonised, Paulo Freire illustrates this inability to make a difference in ‘Cultural Action For Freedom’ thus: ‘For to be, is to be like, and to be like is to be like the coloniser.”

To a democracy so disconnected as to be unable to speak to the plight of the suffering, Paulo Freire says “no pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates, and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in their struggle for their redemption.”

The bodies sitting on the chairs may be black, but the song being sung from the script served on the decision-making tables is the same old one. Oppression sung by whites does not suddenly become a freedom song because it is Black people singing it. This means the same intents and purposes of the system remain unchanged.

This is what Prof Henry Giroux calls ‘the swindle of fulfillment’. So, what is the swindle Giroux asks?

Here comes the answer: “That society has been given a set of quaint, romantic values to identify itself with as the overarching self – definition its members must embody and transmit to all others, which is the principal role of the individual to exist as consumer and the commoditised.

All relationships are based on one aspect: one’s relationship and access to money. The social elite has successfully hijacked and redefined these terms and has employed them to further entrench and consolidate its power over all others, and in doing so, robbed democracy, liberty and freedom of their meanings and replaced it with fraudulent and abusive, pathological ideals, all the while overseeing the erosion of expectations, common sense and the obliteration of the social safety net in order to hand that common institution over to the privateers.”

This translates to a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. One word for it is plutocracy.

Privatisation negating all that is geared to public and common good is the stock and trade of the swindle of fulfillment. The motive behind this swindle reduces citizens as voting cattle that should not expect any changes via the ballot as elections are not supposed to change the system in line with the will of the people.

Today’s youth, if it has any affinity at all to the dignity and respect of what June 16, 1976 represents, will mend its ways as a fitting tribute to those martyred 47 years ago.

Those committed to the struggle against forgetting, will care to remember at what age little Hector Pietersen was when a bullet in Soweto pierced through his body to kill a dream of his mom, Dorothy Molefi.

Does any young person care to know how old was mom Rebecca Truter’s son, Christopher, when his body similarly took a bullet for this nation on that day in Cape Town to later die in hospital? These were children from whom the joy of childhood was snatched.

The number of pupils killed in the uprising was said to be 176, with the figure growing to as high as 700 fatalities. Hector was 13 and Christopher 15.

Seth Mazibuko was marking his 15th birthday on the eve of the march of June 16. A price tag was placed on Tsietsi Mashinini’s head to help secure his arrest, forcing him to go into exile. Of the 11 student leaders charged with sedition, Sibongile Mkhabela, was the only woman that stood trial.

The eleven included:

Accused No. 1 Wilson Chief Twala

Accused No. 2 Daniel Sechaba Sediane Montsisi

Acussed No. 3 Seth Sandile Mazibuko

Accused No. 4 Murphy Morobe

Accused No. 5 Jefferson Khotso Wansi Lengane

Accused No. 6 Sibongile Mkhabela “nee” Mthembu

Accused No. 7 Thabo Ndabeni

Accused No. 8 Kennedy Kgosietsile Mogami

Accused No. 9 Reginald Tebogo Mngomezulu

Accused No.10 Michael Sello Khiba

Accused No.11 George Nkosinathi Twala

Who in their right frame of mind would choose to forget this brave act by students facing up to a monster delighting to eat sons and daughters of the soil grave after grave, bundling its surviving leaders in courts for trial and forcing others into exile?

Place yourself in the shoes of mothers of Hector Pietersen, Hastings Ndlovu and Christopher Trutter.

What room of forgetfulness should they be expected to go to – to close the door of memory; not to remember their children who shouldered the struggle for liberation? If their pain has any meaning at all to the remembrance of June 16, 1976, is it appropriate for this day to be marked with extravagant gestures of merrymaking, launch of beverages and fashions accompanied by toasts and pouring of drinks in celebration? Is the intention behind all this meant to kill the memory of June 16?

I may be mistaken, I must admit. But I get the feeling that there is a war that’s being waged for June 16, 1976, to be forgotten or be remembered for what it is not. This, I believe, is all meant to diminish the moral power of its significance, sense of solemnity; denying it distinct character, reflection, respect and the dignity it deserves.

It was precisely in reverence of this day that the Comrades Marathon Committee was prevailed upon not to stage the Comrades Marathon on June 16. If a demonstration of such sobering endurance could yield in favour of June 16, 1976, why would other frivolities not wait?

In the state our nation is in, why is the need to be informed, educated and entertained seemingly ranking entertainment as the uppermost concern for blacks to live and die for? In whose interests should June 16, 1976, be forgotten and its deep meaning for reflection clouded with a criss-cross of commercial, marketing, uncouth festivities, merrymaking declarations and launches for food, drink, fashion, champagnes and campaigns suggesting non-reflection that cannot wait for another day just to kill the memory of what this day means?

For black people to be respected, they must learn to respect themselves first. Deserved respect of this day includes the youth who are seemingly being made to labour under the misconception of being thoughtless, inconsequential beings from whom this day is no cause for reflection for them to accord it the right of place in the calendar of the liberation project?

Even more saddening is that the youth of our nation is not having the benefit of good examples from their leaders of how great a day June 16 1976 was. And it is the duty of the elders of the nation to teach its young about this day. It was not by mistake that Kwame Ture often reminded us: “It is the job of the conscious to make the unconscious, conscious.”

And those behind the crucifixion of the consciousness of the nation should never be entrusted with the duty for its resurrection. Written by Oupa Ngwenya

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the content belong to the author and not Y, its affiliates, or employees.

About the author

Oupa Ngwenya is a Corporate Strategist, Writer and Freelance Journalist. He is the founding Secretary of the Forum of Black Journalists (1997-2002). He completed his matric by correspondence with University College of London in 1979 after being refused re-admission at Naledi High following students’ nationwide revolt on June 16, 1976.

At the outbreak of the protest, he was a matric student at Naledi High working closely with late cousin Mzwakhe Machobane, desk mate Khotso Seatlholo and successor to SRC President, Tsietsi Mashinini, and President of Soweto Student’s League, Oupa Mlangeni.

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