Thursday, June 15, 2006

Happy Youth Day, South Africa

My father sent me this, and because I do occasionally take requests - Tomorrow will be the 30th anniversary of the Soweto Riots in South Africa:
Black students in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 which forced all black students to learn the Afrikaans language and to be taught secondary school mathematics, social sciences, geography and history in the language.

Punt Janson, the Deputy Minister of Bantu Education at the time, was quoted as saying: "I have not consulted the African people on the language issue and I'm not going to. An African might find that 'the big boss' only spoke Afrikaans or only spoke English. It would be to his advantage to know both languages."'

The decree was resented deeply by blacks as Afrikaans was widely viewed, in the words of Desmond Tutu, then Dean of Johannesburg as "the language of the oppressor". The resentment grew until April 30, 1976, when children at Orlando West Junior School in Soweto went on strike, refusing to go to school. Their rebellion then spread to many other schools in Soweto. The students organised a mass rally for June 16, 1976 to hopefully make themselves heard by the Bantu Education System.
I love that the education minister's name was "Punt". Sounds like an invitation, to me. Especially considering the results:
The police threw canisters of tear gas to disperse the students, who then began throwing stones in retaliation. The gas forced the crowd to draw back a little, but they continued singing and waving placards with slogans including: "Down with Afrikaans", "Viva Azania" and "If we must do Afrikaans, Vorster must do Zulu". A white male police officer drew his handgun and fired a shot, causing panic and chaos. Students started screaming and running and more gunshots were fired. At least 4 children were shot, the first being Hastings Ndlovu followed by 13 year-old Hector Pieterson. The photograph taken of his body became a symbol of police brutality.
It blows my mind that this was tolerated until nineteen-ninety-fucking-four. On the other hand, I suppose I should remember that Chinese Communism is alive and well, and bears many of the same indignities. And a higher body count.

1 comment:

Ronald Brak said...

I'm not sure that China can currently be said to have a higher body count than apartheid, if one takes into account China's much larger population. But I do agree that human rights have a long way to go in China. Their execution rate per person is almost twice as high as in Texas. Now I wouldn't be surprised if Texas had a higher execution rate in the past than China currently, but even so, almost twice the modern rate in Texas is scary.