House Chairperson, firstly let me convey my sincere regards to you all in memory of the class of 1976. I am immensely honoured to participate in this debate in memory of the fallen martyrs of the class of 1976. Their resilience and superb conviction to die for the principle they so religiously believed in serve as a lifetime motivation that calls on us to continue to realise the vision of a fully free and democratic society. We will not fail in our cause to do so.
This task becomes an easy one to execute because we as the ANC are the toughest, evergreen branches of the tree, rooted in the true African soil, a tree that continues to be nurtured and nourished by the blood of the likes of Solomon Mahlangu, Hector Pieterson, Hastings Ndlovu, Lily Mithi and an endless list of true soldiers in the combat line. They passed on with their boots poised to tread the then promising path to freedom.
Hon Chairperson, in my reflection throughout this debate, I challenge you, hon members, through the hon Speaker, to bow our heads in honour of their spirit and shout from the rooftops, saying: Your drumming voices amidst the struggle still echo the fresh call to continue to consolidate our acts together as a nation and to preserve the glue that holds us together across racial lines, free from prejudice and all forms of discrimination. We dare not fail in this regard.
Our resolute decision to commemorate the tragic events of 16 June 1976 was not in vain. It was informed by, among other things, historic importance as a reminder of the painful passage that the African people have travelled to attain freedom. The decision also had multi-prolonged benefits for South African society, and the youth in particular.
Hon members, the purpose of this afternoon's discussion is located in the historic impact of the commemoration of June 16 year in and year out. A litany of racial laws promulgated by the apartheid regime triggered a lot of discomfort for the African people in the seventies, especially Bantu education, the education system that was designed to train and fit Africans for their role in the newly evolving apartheid society. In 1953, the Bantu Education Act of 1953 was promulgated as a pillar among apartheid projects to separate black South Africans from the main, well-resourced, education system. Among other things, this law was one of the many measures used by the apartheid regime to cause South African blacks to receive an inferior education, one that would merely prepare them for manual jobs.
In 1974, for example, the racist government gave the instruction that Afrikaans, alongside English, should be the medium of instruction in schools. As a reaction to this, black South African students began mobilising themselves to fight this unjust practice by the then government. On 16 June 1976, between 3 000 and 10 000 students were successfully mobilised by the South African Students Movement action to stage a peaceful march in protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction.
The trigger-happy police then started shooting randomly at the students. Amongst those in the frontline and the first casualties were the late Hector Pieterson, Lily Mithi and Hastings Ndlovu. From that moment, the streets of Soweto became the battlefield characterised by skirmishes between the police and students. From Soweto these tragic events mushroomed into the neighbouring townships like Tembisa, Kagiso and other parts of the country.
Workers were persuaded to stage a strike by mounting pickets at the railway station and bus terminus. Summarily, South Africa became a bloodbath, which was triggered and provoked by the racist and oppressive regime.
The young and innocent learners who are friends across racial lines must be encouraged to remember that there was a time in this country when they could not be friends because they could not attend the same school. They could not stay in the same areas. They could not play at the same facilities. They must know this uncomfortable part of their heritage so that it shall never again be that they will ever be subjugated merely on account of their skin colour.
They must know that there was a time in South Africa when they were compelled to learn in a foreign language. They must know that there was once a gallant generation of fighters whose image and embodiment is the late Hector Pieterson and his many other living contemporaries, and that these forebears of the youth today resisted with everything at their disposal, including their lives, the imposition of Afrikaans as a language of learning and teaching. It is necessary that the youth of today should understand the historical context of some of the many problems which were caused by apartheid. They must know all these truths so that they can be vigilant to the misguided rhetoric of present-day peacetime warriors who distort history and project the ANC-led government as the cause of problems when it is engaged in cleansing the longest trail of colonialist baggage in Africa.
The youth must know that there was a time in South Africa when young black students could not further their education, a time when the doors of learning and culture were closed to them because they could not afford a university education. We must tell the youth that it is the ANC whose policies addressed these injustices of lack of access to education when it declared that their circumstances of birth would not determine their destiny. These truths must be told. Parents must also take responsibility to lead their children to an appreciation of their identity and essence. The profoundly rich African heritage of bedtime stories and fireplace anecdotes, fables and idioms must be rekindled even as we embrace modern- day PlayStations and social media platforms as forms of entertainment and engagement. Central to the act of learning is a people's language. In this regard, we have a long way to go in teaching the youth to love and appreciate their languages. After all, June 16 was about asserting one's identity and refusing to be subjugated through language. [Applause.]
At this date and time, we cannot whinge and whine and thus continue to deepen the cracks of racist tendencies, as perpetuated by the previous regime. We can only learn the positive lessons from the Soweto Uprising as outlined briefly. Hopefully you would agree with the ANC that events such as these are a good reminder of the realities that have made South Africa what it is today. Let the memory of the struggle heroines and heroes continue to inspire our youth to struggle for a South Africa where poverty, unemployment and equality will not be their legacy and heritage in years to come.
On one level, the commemoration of this day should be the glue that holds us together as a nation as we curse the bitter and painful past and say in unison: Our country will never ever be the same again. [Applause.]
Surely, commemoration of this day must be converted into a powerful instrument for nation-building, reconciliation and a convenient way of fostering social cohesion. It is true that all South Africans across all racial lines are the products of a true African womb. We must therefore learn to unite now more than at any other time before, because we managed to survive against all odds. By way of illustration, hon members will recall that the cynics and soothsayers made countless pronouncements that South Africa would plunge into civil war prior to the first democratic elections. What happened?
Who can forget the cynical statements about the lack of readiness and security prior to our hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup? Instead, we had a very successful World Cup in 2010.
Re bana ba mpa e le nosi, ga re ka ke ra kgaoganngwa ke sepe. Motswana o buile a re sedikwa ke nt?wapedi ga se thata, e bile 'tau di senang seboka di siiwa ke none e tlhotsa. (Translation of Setswana paragraph follows.)
[We are siblings and nothing will separate us. There is a Setswana saying that says two hands are better than one, and that a simple job can be difficult for an individual but an easy job for a group.]
No one can dispute that the exemplary spirit and tone set by the class of 1976 left a lasting inspiration for the young people of South Africa to actively take a keen interest in matters affecting them, especially in education. Commemorating this day is a very important anchor in the historical account of our past, which will always be part of us, but will never discourage us from looking forward to a better future.
By way of illustration, hon members will recall that there are strong and progressive student representative councils in institutions of higher learning. We also have a progressive Youth Alliance, which is very active, that consists of young people from different structures, and is able to deal with issues affecting people in education, unemployment, and other challenges in our country.
Commemoration of June 16 also helps to weave the social thread by organising and taking part in sporting and cultural activities that take place to foster racial unity, which help to mature our democracy, and, most importantly, deepen the efforts of reconciliation. Through constructive debates and cultural events scheduled for the commemoration of 16 June, society, and youth in particular, are exposed to practices of a cultural nature among different races. This, therefore, makes solid the strides made by the ANC-led government of building a nonracial, nonsexist and democratic South Africa.
A series of events to celebrate the June 16 Uprising organised throughout the country therefore becomes a convenient catalyst to encourage tolerance and mutual existence and for diverse cultures to be showcased. This stark reminder of the role played by the youth inspires us to join hands and attend all activities to pay homage to the fallen heroes and heroines by actively participating in sports.
One more important dimension of the commemoration of June 16 annually lies in the centrality of its importance with regard to how it could contribute to the changed face of our education system. To commemorate this eventful and tragic day is to acknowledge the historical value it bears to current society. In other words, the true history of South African politics is incomplete without a comprehensive narrative of the events of 16 June 1976.
It is a breaking point that remains a treasure in our education, and thus needs to be preserved. We can neither archive nor hide the stark reality of the enormous importance that the Soweto Uprisings had for the South African landscape. It has to be retold both as an oral history as well as a written one.
We have the backing that guarantees our right to commemorate important dates in our history. We are therefore encouraged to use this opportunity to learn a lot from the determination of the Class of 1976 as we commemorate this day.
Honourable Speaker, I affirm that the ANC-led government's decision to set aside time to reflect on the day in this debate, as an annual event, is a step in the right direction as it rekindles the rich treasure of the early days in the conception of our current democracy. It is a good story to tell and a good story to keep and transfer to all generations.
There is a dire need to conduct unconscious political education, and the correction of distorted facts is necessary. It is in the commemoration of such events that distorted historical facts are corrected at open public events organised by the government. Such a progressive and beneficial opportunity must not be missed and that is why I, on behalf of the ANC-led government, a party voted for by 62% of South Africans, urge all members and sectors of society to attend the commemoration of such events. It is an opportunity never to be missed.
Finally, a few days ago we all learnt that there are some who proclaim to hail from Soweto. Well, I guess that by now they must have had a very informed and reliable political baptism. They would therefore not grace this podium and whinge about the challenges that we all are aware of. We know the challenges facing youth as well as society.
I therefore expect them to be part of the constructive debate, as stated by the President of this country in his state of the nation address, by opening up to the realities around the need to jointly commemorate this eventful day to remind ourselves of the fact that we, as mankind, can rise above an oppressive and limiting environment and achieve what is good for our common good.
Members of this esteemed House, the days of whingeing and whining are gone. We need to join hands and build this nation together and continue being the social glue that helps in building the nation. Let us be part of the commemoration as one nation with a common history and destiny. We do this to leave a legacy, not to be compared with anyone else. As the ANC, we will expose the flame to those who still prefer the darkest passages. I refer to those on the left. The ANC lives and the ANC leads! This government is ready to take the youth forward. [Applause.]