Soweto


When I was growing up, Soweto, the South Western Townships of Johannesburg, seemed as familiar to me as the next town. Pictures of protests and demonstrations, usually met with brutal violence from the security forces, filled our TV screens. For someone growing up in a conflict zone, there was a weird reassurance to see that we weren't the only people at each others' throats.


On 16th June, 1976, the school children of Soweto went on strike to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as the language of education. They were met by the South African Defence Forces who unleashed such violence that, by the end upwards of 700 protesters were dead. Even the 'official' doctored death toll was 176, a massacre of young people that is bearably imaginable. This atrocity marked the start of the Soweto Uprising, a movement borne of the Black Consciousness Movement led by Steve Biko until his own torture and murder at the hands of police in 1977.


Modern South Africa marks this anniversary as Youth Day, a chance to remember all the young people killed by the apartheid regime. 60 year old Seth Mazibuko was one of the youngest members of the South African Students' Organisation who helped to organise the march. He had just turned 16 when he led pupils out of their classrooms.

"We walked with the books," he told news-site News24, "and only picked up the rocks along the way. We were walking with books because we were fighting an issue of books."


He remembered the tear gas and the dogs that were set on the students. And then the shooting started. Despite mothers pleading for their children, including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the killing went on. By evening the mortuary was piled high with the bodies of the dead.


Forty-four years on, and much has changed. But the last few weeks says there is still a long way to go ...





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