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‘We owe it to Biko, to Mashini, to Tiro to fight for free education and, if need be, die for it’: Vuyani Pambo

'Long live the undying spirit of Tsietsi Mashinini'

The youth behind the June 1976 uprising were fighting against more than being taught in Afrkaans, writes the EFF's Vuyani Pambo.
The youth behind the June 1976 uprising were fighting against more than being taught in Afrkaans, writes the EFF's Vuyani Pambo.
Image: BONGANI MNGUNI/ CITY PRESS/ GALLO IMAGES/ GETTY IMAGES

The 1976 June 16 massacres remain one of the most revered and honoured days of resistance to colonial dominance in the history of liberation struggles not only on the continent, but in the world.

While Russia had the Great Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the US had its Civil War, and Haiti boasted the great Haitian Revolution which crafted the first black independent state, South Africa had a brave generation of youth who fought a brutal state machinery.

The 1976 uprisings represent the greatest moment of selflessness,  courage and determination, by a generation that took upon its young shoulders the burden of liberating us all.

The backdrop of this inspiring moment was a deliberate and precise system of underdevelopment, orchestrated by a white-settler community of colonialists, whose sole purpose was to exploit African people.

The exploitation of Africans however could not occur through brute force alone, it required an orchestrated agenda to deliberately under develop Africans, and at the centre of creating a cheap, disposable and compliant labour force, was the provision of poor education for black people.

 It is tantamount to distortion to say the students who confronted rifles and machine guns of apartheid state security with stones in their hands and  a desire for freedom in their hearts did so solely because they did not want to be taught in Afrikaans. This was part of the reasons, but not central to the protests
Vuyani Pambo, EFF MP 

After centuries of the British colonial mission of conversion to Christianity and integration into the knowledge systems of the British Empire through missionary schools, the emergence of the Afrikaner as the oppressive force in SA marked a new chapter.

The racist architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd declared that natives must be taught from an early age that equality with a white man will never happen.

He characterised Africans as nothing but hewers of wood and drawers of water, inspired by centuries of placing African people as a dark section of the history of humanity.

In 1975, the minister of Bantu education instructed that half of the subjects in standard 5 and form 1 must be taught in Afrikaans.

That which was to be taught in Afrikaans, was inferior education, within an inferior infrastructure and funding allocation, and was part and parcel of dehumanising Africans as people who must be taught only enough skills to be servants of white society.

That is the crux of what needs to be understood about the 1976 uprisings, and one can only understand this if we read the historic moment within its ideological underpinnings, which is primarily black consciousness.

It is tantamount to distortion to say the students who confronted rifles and machine guns of apartheid state security with stones in their hands and a desire for freedom in their hearts did so solely because they did not want to be taught in Afrikaans.

This was part of the reasons, but not central to the protests.

It was the imposition of identity, the undermining of African identity, knowledge systems and forms of expression that led to the uprisings.

That is why we must always remind those who were sent to distort history that the 1976 uprisings were inspired by the Black Consciousness Movement.

Forty-six years ago,  a generation of youth that was inspired by Stephen Bantu Biko, a generation who were black consciousness, went into the streets to demand that they be allowed to call their souls their own.

It was thousands of youth, who were mobilised and energised by the ideas of Biko, the fearlessness of Tsietsi Mashinini and the guidance of Onkgopotse Tiro, that resolved to confront the old enemy without any arms to defend themselves.

The 1976 generation picked up the baton from the warriors of the past, and teenagers and high schoolchildren led from the front, carrying stones against an enemy which had rifles.

Parents who had been crippled by fear due to banning of liberation movements, and had accepted that they were doomed to be servants, and doomed to live under the boots of white supremacists, were inspired out of their fear, by teenagers who took bullets for the liberation of African people.

After having committed themselves to alcohol abuse, and retired to a reality that apartheid would never be defeated, elders were shaken out of their sleep by the 1976 generation.

It was Tiro, who died due to the delivery of a parcel bomb to him while in exile, who struck fear into the hearts of Afrikaner soldiers, with the militancy and fearlessness of an African youth.

Education is not only a means to get money, education is dignity. Education gives you access to places that you would ordinarily be excluded from and undermined in

Despite having their entire lives designed in a way to keep them inferior, this generation was relentless in demanding that the Bantu education system be done away with, and quality education be provided to African schools

It is a generation that was angered by the fact that R644 was allocated to each white student for education in SA, while only R42 was allocated for each black student

It is a generation that fought to have a book in their hands, and to learn in a language they could express themselves in. Instead of being given a book, they were given bullets.

Instead of being given the quality education they fought for, they were given premature deaths, and those who came after them, such as the Fees Must Fall generation, are being treated the same, for making the same demand.

Education is not only a means to get money, education is dignity. Education gives you access to places that you would ordinarily be excluded from and undermined in.

It is education that will make you speak with the pride of a rich man, even though you have nothing in your pockets.

Education allows you to be brave, it makes you unable to be captured and compromised, because no matter what any criminal or corrupt individual says, you are able to interrogate it, because your mind is liberated.

We need to fight for education with the same tenacity as the youth of 1976.

We must honour Tsietsi Mashinini, by continuing the brave fight for free education in our lifetime.

The blood of those who died in 1976 has been betrayed by this so-called democracy, because those who rejected that generation do not want our children to be educated.

The so-called former liberation movement, which had a tendency of condemning struggles not led by it, distanced itself from the youth of 1976.

Just like it distanced itself from the Sharpeville Day demonstrations, which were led by Pan-Africanists, the liberation movement which was defined by political jealousy, distanced itself from the 1976 demonstrations, which were led by the black consciousness movement.

It is for this reason it calls Sharpeville Day Human Rights Day.

It is for this reason it calls June 16, which marks the Soweto uprisings, Youth Day because a bloody revolution does not fit well in the picture of a rainbow nation.

It is for this reason it calls Shaka Day Heritage Day.

The ANC is engaged in the task of distortion, because it does not want to portray our history as one of violent resistance to colonial dominance.

They are ashamed that they were on the sidelines of such great moments of defiance, and for that, they will water down our history.

We must rescue history from those who seek to distort it. We must rescue Robert Sobukwe, Tsietsi Mashinini, Steve Biko and Ongkopostse Tiro from being erased from history.

We must rescue the Black People’s Convention (BPC) and the SA Student Organisation (SASO) of Steve Biko, from having their contribution to this historic uprising erased by a jealous generation known as the ANC, which hates the youth, and imprisons them today for demanding free education.

That is our task as revolutionaries and doctors of society — to put history into its correct context, to tell the truth, and that is what June 16 is about.

We are not merely celebrating being young. Youth day is not a day that is simply about being youth for the sake of it.

It is about being a youth that contributes to society and history.

It  is about being a decisive youth, a conscious youth, a selfless youth, and a fighting youth.

We are honouring young people who sacrificed for us, fought for us, and died for us. We are celebrating an indigenous youth of Africa, who took up responsibilities unexpectedly, and fought a murderous regime.

We owe it to Biko, to Mashini, to Tiro to fight for free education and, if need be, die for it.

Vuyani Pambo is the EFF head of presidency and a South African MP.


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