SOWETO - This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Soweto student uprising.
The demonstration by students against Bantu education and the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction ignited protests that soon went beyond their education and triggered resistance that finally led to the end of white rule.
Student activist from Morris Isaacson High School, Tsietsi Mashinini spearheaded the march that day.
Tsietsi’s brother, Dee explained to eNCA that the change over to Afrikaans as a medium for instruction was sudden, which made it all the more difficult to adapt to.
“You’ve never heard what is Biology in Afrikaans, what is arithmetic in Afrikaans, what is biblical studies in Afrikaans, you’ve never heard of those words and now suddenly you must pass... so that big barrier arrives so sudden that going to school is becoming a big problem again.”
It was on this foundation that Tsietsi began secretly organising the march. And on 16 June,1976 he led hundreds of students on a route this country will never forget.
“Tsietsi gave me what I never thought I would have, he gave me freedom – he gave me the ability to be conscious,” adds Dee.
The march was intended to be peaceful, but soon turned into a flurry of bullets, rocks and dustbin-lid shields.
Twenty-three people were killed that day. One of the first was 12-year-old Hector Pietersen, who fell right outside former student activist Manase Sefase’s home.
“It was for the first time seeing such a young male in blood, especially shot. We were not used to such things so I cried. I could imagine how was the sister who was running alongside him with Mbuso, she was screaming and asking for help,” recalls Sefase.
Sixty-year-old Tokologo Legodi was also in the crowd on that day. He spent years evading arrest after the protests, moving from country to country across the continent.
Legodi says the promise of 1976 will only be realised if there is equal education and opportunity.
“Is our government putting enough effort to upgrade the future of a young black child? It hurts me. I don’t have power, I don’t want to be in politics because in politics, dog eats dog. I don’t want to be aligned to any movement but, as a parent today, I’m looking at my neighbour’s child, I’m looking at young girls passing here young men here who you can see that these people are future less.”