South Africa needs unity
The 1976 student uprising marked the turning point in the South African struggle for liberation, writes Molebatsi Masedi
IFEEL pity for the Pan Africanist Movement in South Africa and its Black Consciousness cousin, they are always mourning about how the government is not according them much deserved recognition. This is tantamount to wanting in the boardroom, what they failed to win in the crucible of struggle.
My feelings of pity for the two strands of the liberation movement come as the country celebrates Human Rights Month. Commemorations of the Month will culminate with Human Rights Day on March 21.
Human Rights Day owes its existence from the Sharpeville massacre which occurred in Sharpeville when the apartheid police turned on the PAC anti-pass march with disastrous consequences.
On the day a crowd of about 7 000 people marched on the Sharpeville police station. The police fired live ammunition. When the shooting stopped many people were injured, 69 were killed.
As if the murder of the innocent was not enough, the settler-colonial regime banned all strands of the liberation struggle.
The PAC named the day Sharpeville after the township where the tragedy occurred. March 21 became an annual commemorative day in the calendar of the struggle in the country and elsewhere in the world. Azapo commemorated it over the years as Heroes’ Day.
Another tragedy would occur on 16 June 1976. Students marched, peacefully and bearing no weapons, against the wholesale imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. As would be expected, another massacre happened. The apartheid police maimed and killed many students.
The 1976 student uprising marked the turning point in the South African struggle for liberation. Thousands of young people skipped the borders and went into exile to train as soldiers to free their country. Or so did the youth of 1976 think. It would be years before the country could be free and safe for them to return home. They would be much older when freedom came, some would have died in exile.
With the dawn of freedom and democracy the two events would be elevated in status in the national calendar. March 21 became Human Rights Day to celebrate everybody’s rights as enshrined in the Constitution of the country.
As for June 16, it became Youth Day to commemorate the bravery of the youth who stood up against a regime armed to the teeth.
The recognition and elevation of the two historical events is clothed in anger and bitterness by the Pan Africanists and Black Consciousness. At the heart of their anger and bitterness is the historical conflict of who was behind March 21, 1960 and June 16, 1976.
The PAC claims ownership of March 21, 1960 and would have preferred that they would lead in its annual commemoration as Sharpeville Day and not Human Rights Day as the government has renamed it.
March 21 and June 16 are a classic examples of how victors arrogantly rewrite history by writing themselves in and others out or reducing them to minor roles in history.
As history is told and recorded, the ANC solely bore the burden of liberating the country. The nation owes the party eternal gratitude for taking it out of the bonds of oppression.
During the struggle years, the ANC sought to cast itself as the sole international representative of the oppressed people of South Africa. It became big brother of the liberation struggle. Consequent to its casting as the sole representative of the people, it received more recognition and support across the world. Other strands in the liberation struggle were reduced to the role of extras.
In the country turf battles were fought and resulted in losses of life and destruction of property. People were uprooted from their communities as a result of this internecine violence. The United Democratic Front (UDF) and Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) fought pitched battles in Soweto, Bekkersdal and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
There was the Inkatha factor in the hostels and rural Kwa-Zulu Natal where much lives were lost as organisations fought for hegemony. Where an organisation dominated, it declared the area a no-go zone for others. This tendency nearly had Kwa-Zulu Natal excluded from the first democratic elections.
IFP was eventually cajoled into being party to the elections and peace returned to the war-torn region over time. There are still sporadic incidents of violence and political killings in Kwa-Zulu Natal. They are not as they were at the dawn of freedom. Differences are managed better today and political parties are more tolerant towards one another.
Political violence is bred by intolerance among parties, with each party imposing its will on others to a point of silencing them. History abounds where intolerance destroyed countries. In Europe you had NAZI Germany. Rwanda had its own spate of intolerance which had many people killed.
As the country celebrates human rights month, it becomes equally important that we pluck the gaps in our history. The gaps in our history can be plucked by acknowledging that the struggle for liberation was more than the ANC. Recognition must be given to the entirety of the broad liberation struggle.
PAC and BC have had their own troubled times during the struggle and post 1990, this however doesn’t diminish their contributions in the struggle for liberation. They contributed as much as the ANC did and need to be acknowledged accordingly.
Of course there have been acknowledgements of both
PAC and BC to various degrees by the government. Advocate Mojankunyana Gumbi was the legal advisor in the presidency during the time of Thabo Mbeki.
Then Azapo president, Dr Mosibudi Mangena was variously deputy minister and minister. Another former Azapo leader, Dr Itumeleng Mosala, was the director general of the Department of Arts and Culture.
Themba Godi, formerly of the PAC and now of the African People’s Convention, is long-serving chairperson of the key Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The heritage agency is in the process of constructing a statue for Robert Sobukwe, the father of Pan Africanism in South Africa.
There is the Steve Biko statue in Port Elizabeth and an academic hospital named after him. Several ANC leaders like Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel have delivered Steve Biko Memorial Lectures.
Black Consciousness and Pan Africanism have found home in the ANC and society in general, more especially those who feel betrayed by the new dispensation. They find solace in the twin philosophies of BC and Pan Africanism.
The bits and pieces of recognition to BC and PAC are half hearted. They don’t adequately compensate their contributions to the liberation of the country.
As the ANC enters uncharted waters of radical socio-economic transformation and obvious resistance it will encounter, it may realise that it needs all strands of the liberation struggle on its side. This way the complete history of the liberation struggle will be written by those who shared trenches together.
Can the ANC find it easy to merge with the National Party than with PAC and Azapo, it remains to be seen what the future holds in this regard. The future is unity of the historical liberation movement. Failure to forge unity of the liberation movement will see the gains of freedom being reversed.