18 June 2010

Namibia: The June 16th Student Uprising


This historical day started when high school students in Soweto protested for better education on 16 June 1976, and police responded with teargas and live bullets.

It is commemorated today by African nations that honour all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education.

In 1953, the Apartheid Government enacted the Bantu Education Act, which established a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs.

Black people were not to receive an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn't be allowed to hold in society.

Instead, they were to receive education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the homelands or to work in labouring jobs under whites.

With Bantu Education, there was a severe lack of facilities. Overcrowded classrooms were used on a rotation basis. There was also a lack of teachers, and many of those who did teach were under-qualified.

In 1975, South Africa entered a period of economic depression. Schools were starved of funds, the government spent R644 a year on a white child's education but only R42 on a black child.

So, when the Department of Education issued its decree that Afrikaans was to become a language of instruction at school, students objected to being taught in the language of the oppressor. Many teachers themselves could not speak Afrikaans, but were now required to teach their subjects in it.

When the 1976 school year started, many teachers refused to teach in Afrikaans. But generally students were disparaging of the attitude of their teachers and parents.

Students wrote to The World newspaper: "Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man's rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth."

On 16 June, about 15 000 to 20 000 uniformed students assembled at different points throughout Soweto, then set off to meet at Orlando West Secondary School where the plan was to pledge their solidarity and sing Nkosi Sikeleli 'iAfrika.

The Bureau of State Security (BOSS), which was in charge of South Africa's internal security, was caught unawares. A police squad was sent in to form a line in front of the marchers.

They ordered the crowd to disperse. When they refused, police dogs were released, and then teargas was fired.

Students responded by throwing stones and bottles at the police. A policeman drew his revolver and shot without warning into the crowd. Other policemen also started shooting.

Army helicopters dropped teargas on gatherings of students. Roadblocks were set up at all entrances to Soweto. The battle between students and police continued into the night.

Coloured and Indian students joined their black comrades.

A new generation had made their voice of opposing apartheid heard, and was determined to be listened to.

Many left South Africa to join the armies of the exiled political movements. Those who stayed behind ensured the exiled organisations could count on support from within the townships.

Colleagues, it is hard for us to forget this historic day and the famous photo of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying the body of 13-year-old Hector Petersen who had been shot with Hector's sister running next to him.

June 16th would never be forgotten

Therefore, I am calling on all the students to appreciate and respect the non-Bantu Education which we are getting from our SWAPO Government by not forgetting those who sacrificed their lives for this better education.

With all of us supporting our SWAPO Government through finding constructive solutions for our education, we will always emerge victorious in education.

Comrades and fellow students, let's engage ourselves in concentrating on science and mathematics subjects to enable our country to advance technologically.

Natangue Ithete is the Secretary for Education, Culture, Pioneer Movement, Swapo Party Youth League.

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