30th ANNIVERSARY OF THE JUNE 16, 1976
STATEMENT BY DR. SAMUEL EFOUA MBOZO’O, DEPUTY CLERK OF PAP FOR LEGISLATIVE BUSINESS
SOWETO, 24th JUNE 2006
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the June 16th Soweto Uprising.
The Sun rose differently on that day of June 16th here in Soweto, 30 years ago. Youth from the black community, having had enough of the appalling conditions of their parents and increasingly aware of the prevailing injustices rose to say NO TO OPPRESSION.
You will recall that during the 70s, the struggle against apartheid seemed to be stalling. No real progress was being made. Most of the ANC leadership had been incarcerated and/or forced into exile; many others have been killed. The voice of repulsion was to come from the children of Soweto, this Township which became famous by virtue of it rich history as an irrefutable heritage in the memory of the struggle of the People of South Africa. Today, we salute the children of Soweto for their courage and indomitable fighting spirit. We salute the heroes who lost their lives during this period and those who were injured.
Few years later, the Legendary Nelson Mandela wrote as follows: “The sun will rise one day and that day henceforth the Children would take cognizance of their living conditions and will be fully aware of their role as Men and Women of tomorrow …”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This vision was fulfilled by the children of Soweto who, brimming with strength and vigour, school bags, slung across their shoulders, took to the street to express revulsion and revolt against the abject conditions of their parents and express their firm determination not to allow themselves to be subjected to the same conditions. The children of Soweto rose to say no to a regime whose sole objective and mission was to destroy their determination. The imposition of Afrikaans as the sole language of instruction in a country with a rainbow of languages was a prelude to the bright colours of emancipation.
It was therefore this alienation through language that triggered the struggle. What a wonderful lesson of awareness that language is an instrument of life, a vehicle of culture, an instrument of identity and emancipation.
Today, 30 years after the Soweto Uprising, Africa still commemorates June 16 as the Day of the African Child. Indeed, June 16th, instituted by the OAU following the ratification by 33 of its 53 Member States, of the African Charter on the Rights of the African Child adopted earlier in 1989, has a dual symbolism:
• first it reminds us of the rights of the children to free speech and freedom of expression; and
• that the African Child can no longer be deprived of her cultural reference.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the basis of the main theme of this year’s celebration “Right to Protection: stop Violence Against Children” and in view of the fact the issue of language is the one which triggered the events of June 16, 1976, I should like to talk yet about another form of violence against children, which is the phenomenon of bringing up our children in Africa outside their cultural set up.
Indeed, we should not forget that the element of culture was, by and large, the underlying factor which contributed to the children uprising in June 16, 1976. It was due to their increasing cultural awareness, expressed by their refusal to use an alien language (Afrikaans) as means of instructions that brought the children to the streets. Today, history compels us to reflect on the fate reserved to our children and the role that we as parents, should play in shaping their destiny.
June 16th poses a fundamental problem to all of us: the role of the school, its social function and the content of its programmes. This is an open debate to which no one (fathers and mothers alike or educators) can abscond.
Analysts have been trying to explain the reason why Africans, whose countries have not embarked on a cultural revolution by way of adopting African languages as medium of instruction, at tender age, become non fulfilled elites; people permanently trying to fit in two different worlds at the same time; people struggling to rediscover their African identity by a return to the roots where traditions are often fantasized and tinged with nostalgia.
Within this context, we salute President Mbeki’s assertion that “He is an African”.
Analysts who have also attempted to examine the impact of cultural alienation and its incidence on the process of mentality building have come to the conclusion that a spirit of contempt towards one’s own identity and culture tends to lodge unconsciously at the back of the African mind. The end result is that that, many Africans pile up pieces of forgotten identity, one on the top of the other and refuse their own identity and culture.
It is therefore imperative that we, as policy makers, work towards decolonizing the minds of the African child.
Analysis have also attempt to understand the phenomenon of complex cultural identity which compel Africans to refuse to understand that, despite their incommensurable diversity, African languages have many similarities and can be used as unifying instruments of a shared identity and not as tools of ideological diversion and manipulation.
If we were to accept that June 16th is about the rights of the child, then we have also to accept the need to reflect on the role of the child as the adult of tomorrow.
Let us digress a bit and stress the need to examine the cultural symbolism of the Soweto events. Such an approach presupposes that we must gather the necessary courage to analyze the evolution of our countries in contemporary Africa.
One school of thought argues that Africans live in a state of backwardness due to cultural alienation and to the challenges that they face to overcome this phenomenon. The fact that children, from a tender age, are educated outside their cultural references or background contributes to this subjugation which is nothing less, nothing more than the continuation of the state of slavery. Indeed, this is yet another form of perpetuating domination.
Otherwise how could one understand that in the 21st Century, our children do not receive education in their own languages? This is a crucial issue which poses the problem of training young Africans in a language which would allow them to freely express their thought and thus contributes, as Africans, to the universal debate on humanity. This is the very issue which was at the epicentre of the Soweto Uprising in 1976. Students were gunned down merely because of their refusal to acquire universal knowledge through a colonial language which deprive them the right to even think about their emancipation.
Soweto, 30 years after: the rainbow Nation remembers its children.
As we make an assessment of a long learning process on how to conquer oneself through one’s cultural values, we should not forget the children of Soweto and let us remember the sacrifice made by these children in order to make South Africa one of the biggest countries in the continent today.
As we commemorate June 16 as the Day of the African Child, let us remember to protect our children at all costs and prepare them for the challenges looming ahead.
thank you for your attention