The up­ris­ing from a fresh per­spec­tive

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - VUSI ADO­NIS

IN 1910, the Pol­icy Pa­per on Lan­guage was drafted. Its pur­pose was to con­sol­i­date the ex­clu­sive use of English and Dutch (the lat­ter would be re­placed by Afrikaans in 1925) as lan­guages of in­struc­tion in South African schools.

Fast-for­ward six decades later to the early 1970s, when Depart­ment of Bantu Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter MC Botha and his deputy, An­dries Treur­nicht, both prom­i­nent mem­bers of the Broeder­bond, looked to ac­cel­er­ate the en­force­ment of Afrikaans as the medium of in­struc­tion in African schools.

No one could have imag­ined that these ac­tions would lead to the wa­ter­shed mo­ment in South African his­tory that would come to be known sim­ply as “June 16”.

What is there to be said about June 16, 1976 that has not al­ready been said? Who were these pupils who took to the streets on that fate­ful day? What drove them to the point where they de­clared “enough is enough”?

These are the ques­tions Si­fiso Mx­olisi Ndlovu looks to an­swer in his book The Soweto Up­ris­ings.

Ndlovu, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the Univer­sity of South Africa, uses news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, in­ter­views with for­mer pupils and his own per­sonal account to pro­vide the reader with a “counter mem­ory” of events lead­ing up to and events af­ter June 16, 1976.

He was a 14-year-old pupil at Phe­feni Ju­nior Sec­ondary School and was among the ac­tive par­tic­i­pants in the protest ac­tion against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of in­struc­tion.

One of the most con­tested sub­jects of June 16 is the role that var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal move­ments played in spark­ing the up­ris­ing.

The book dili­gently analy­ses claims by var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the PAC, Black Con­scious­ness groups and stu­dent bod­ies, on their sup­posed in­flu­ence on pupils and the sub­se­quent ori­gins of the Soweto up­ris­ings.

It is im­por­tant to recog­nise that, by law, school was not com­pul­sory for black chil­dren.

The chil­dren who did want to go to school were there be­cause they had made a choice.

Ndlovu writes: “The bound­aries were not al­ways clear be­tween child­hood, ado­les­cence and adult­hood.”

The beauty of this book lies mainly in the in­ter­views. One such in­ter­view is that with An­toinette Sithole nee Pi­eter­son. Who can for­get the im­age of her run­ning along­side Mbuy­isa Makhubo, who was car­ry­ing a dy­ing Hec­tor Pi­eter­son in his arms.

Ndlovu recog­nises the roles of black jour­nal­ists – the likes of So­phie Tema and Nat Ser­ache. He com­ments: “African jour­nal­ists were tra­di­tion­ally con­signed the role of un­sung gath­er­ers of facts who turned over their notes to white jour­nal­ists, who gen­er­ally, with the aid of white ed­i­tors, re­ceived all the credit for the story.”

The Soweto Up­ris­ings: Counter-Mem­o­ries of June 1976 gives a fresh per­spec­tive and gives im­pe­tus to the youth of 2017 to do some in­tro­spec­tion.

Si­fiso Mx­olisi Ndlovu

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