Sjamboks! Tear gas! Policemen in vans and others are forming hedges of defence for Authority.
“Where have I seen this before?”
Song. Chants. Revolutionary dances.
“This looks familiar.”
And the News! The News producing coverage mostly representative of the how ‘uncivil, rebellious and ignoramus’ the Black Youth are. It was business as usual, corroborating without awareness the famous AWA – African Winning Again! Without disregard of the reality that Black university pupils were indeed destroying properties, interfering with the daily living of the public, it could equally not be ignored that, disruptive discourse is a language that is recognised by Authority. History is evidence!
“Is it only us the Black Youth who are anxious about the monetary value placed on our education, ntatemoholo?” A young man in his school uniform asked an elderly man who was staring attentively at the big screen in front of him. The two were viewing the day News from the TV screen at a local tuck-shop up in Soweto. The News reported on a group of young people who were #woke after being shaken by the announcement that their university fees were to raise. These young people are descendants of a people whose human rights were subordinated and enshrined in social inequalities that resulted in economic disempowerment. A raise in education fees meant no escape out of the bankruptcy rot that those who came before them are still confronted with. The raise was a vague formula that would continue to marginalise social classes giving in to the factual cliché of “the poor remaining poor…” as the saying goes. The young black activists then took to the streets of Johannesburg with the vision to terminate the further economic crippling by Authority.
‘FEES MUST FALL! FEES MUST FALL! FEES MUST FALL!’
The chants went on, accompanied by placards that renounced the decolonization of education, reiterating the decolonization of other socio-political pitfalls. The anger of these students reflected their zeal to transform as a youth.
“We demand free education!” said one of the interviewed pupils from the News.
The elderly man watching these activities with the young man, who was only a year from going to university, remembered a group of young people that also took to the streets of Johannesburg, Soweto to stand up against the injustices that formerly impeded the free learning of Black pupils.
“This was the youth of 1976,” the elderly man said, thinking out loud to himself. “The education of a black child has never been without terms and conditions.”
It cannot be overwritten the history of the youth of 1976 who, also, sought out to eradicate educational crises that rendered a delimitation of knowledge acquisition, these crises belittled their culture and their human rights rites of communication. This delimitation was of the medium through which they were taught. Among this youth was a young man named Hector Peterson. Peterson, an enthusiastic Soweto lad and the rest of his peers at the time, went forward as an army on 16 June 1976 and marched and the protested against the use of exogenous language in teaching technical subjects. The old man was reminiscing and hoping that the young man was listening.
“You have probably heard or read of the Youth of ’76, mfanaka, but it may be of irrelevance to you because its commemoration these days is treated with ill reverence.” It was a fair judgement for the elderly man to make, and it seemed to provoke a sense of political consciousness in the young man.
As the old man continued reminiscing over the activities of yester-century, he came to the epiphany that, what the youth of ’76 had fought against was never fully addressed. The South African school pupils are still made to use foreign languages in education. “Free education has not amounted to freely learning after all”, the old man frowned at this thought.
Language, from the beginning of time, has been at the centre of human life. It is one of the cultural elements in every tradition that distinguishes a people from the rest. Sometimes language is spoken, displayed or signed, but, it serves to bridge communication among human beings. Still thinking about Hector and his peers in 1976, about their fighting for how language was used in the education environment then, the old man was convinced that, the language of protest – displays on placards stating the frustrations of the youth of Soweto scholars – was the only language that earned the concerns of youth mass recognition. However, this language did not lead to freely learning in the codes that spoke to their culture, which would make their tradition rich as a people. It was received as the aggression of a black man and not as a matter of socio-economic anxiety.
“I do not think the university people are angry, ntatemoholo. Even I am now worried that I might not get into university because I will not afford with these annual increases,” the young man said. “This thing is making me anxious too. It’s a crisis, oupa.”
Movement was a language that the youth of 1976 employed. However, it was received as an aggressive revolutionary act. It is so with language, it is sometimes misunderstood or ignored by those to whom it is directed. The youth’s language, their plea, their anxious lamentations, and their frustrations were not received with listening ears in 1976 even though they were clearly being heard.
“And if we don’t listen but hear there is bound to be unfavourable and inapplicable response to what is being communicated to us,” said the young man, emphasizing with exaggerated gestures the intensity of his disdain for the youth being ignored. Inevitably, even in 76, when Authority saw and heard of the youth’s movement, they reacted with violence, which led to the injuries and killings. One of the lost youth members in the event of protests was Hector Peterson. His name remains an epitome of the youth that fought against oppressive powers on that June 16.
Alas! It is wonder striking what could have become of Hector and other brave young political activists that used the language of protest to express the anxiety that was brought about by the conduct of Authority when it came to the principles of their education, a conduct which was based on their race more than anything. Although the inequalities still exist in present day South Africa, where even human languages are still not given equal privilege, where the language of protest is still met with violence by those in high power regardless of the granted ‘freedom of expression’; the youth of modern day South Africa continue to use this mode of language that was demonstrated by the youth of 1976 nonetheless. And it is still a show-stopper for today’s Authority.
Notwithstanding, the old man was pleased to see young people not submitting to further economic crippling, however, he was not satisfied by the demolishing of monuments because, “They are physical evidence of history,” he said.
“There are far many things that we still need to mend in this education system”, he continued, standing out of his chair.
He even imagined the worst – thinking of what would happen if one day he woke up to there not being any evidence of the youth of 1976. He recalled hearing talks by citizens who have scorned former freedom fighters as sell-outs and this made him anxious.
“What if our children also destroy monuments of these figures out of anger? Anxiety may lead to self-destruction!” As he stood in wonder at the foreyard of the tuck-shop, gazing yonder the street where in the distance you could see the Hector Peterson museum, the elderly man gave a silent prayer to those who have passed. He insisted that THEY pour down wisdom to the youth of the 21st century to create a new language for themselves that would not involve exposing themselves to unjust violence and the demolishing of historical subjects.
“Decolonization and the building of a nation; these efforts are not in vain.”
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo