Today, June 16th marks the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings. Soweto is known for the student uprisings which served as a catalyst for the anti-apartheid movement. June 16th is now designated as a public holiday, to commemorate all the young people who lost their lives in the fight for freedom and democracy.
Two days after my arrival, Zodwa, Silvio and I visited Soweto for a “tour” my host mom had arranged. I was excited because I had planned to visit Soweto as soon as I realized I was going to South Africa. Our first stop in Soweto was at the Hector Pieterson Museum, named after the first student to be shot and killed during the Soweto Uprising. Our volunteer guide at the museum informed us that he was shot only two blocks from the museum. He also explained that Hector was shot partly because he did not understand the instructions to disperse given by the police. The apartheid government mainly used Afrikaans, a Dutch language which was unfamiliar to many black South Africans. As we stood outside the museum, I thought about what it must have been like during 1976 when students were eager to oppose the government’s insistence on using Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools. I reflected on the journey of black people in other parts of the world and how the struggle for freedom still continues. Although these monuments in some ways represent victories and finally overcoming apartheid, I couldn’t help but think about how black lives are still devalued and disregarded in many parts of the world….Ahh….Suffice to say, I was overwhelmed and decided against going into the museum because I don’t think I could continue thinking about this.
My time in South Africa will be split between Johannesburg and Cape Town. I only spent a week in Joburg and left on Saturday, June 12th for Cape Town. On my way to the airport, my uber driver told me he was from Soweto. We engaged in a hearty conversation about the Soweto uprisings and he shared stories of how it is remembered and celebrated. Women and children dress up in school uniforms and march around Soweto in memory of all the young people who lost their lives during 1976. And here’s the best part, he said he attended the same school where the uprisings began. And it gets better, he was at this school when one of the best movies of all time —Sarafina—was being filmed. At this point, I knew that being in South Africa was definitely part of my destiny!
Stay tuned, more to come on the work I’ve been doing as well as my Cape Town experiences.
Zodwa enjoys taking pictures so here are some of the many we took in Soweto:
Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela’s House