South Africa: 35 years since the Soweto uprising -- `Past struggles must not be misused to silence the struggles of today'

Hector Petersen was one of the first victims of the apartheid regime's attempts to crush the 1976 Soweto youth uprising.

By Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League

June 14, 2011 -- Abahlali baseMjondolo -- On Youth Day, June 16, this year the nation will be celebrating 35 years since the struggle of the youth for freedom, democracy, justice and equality in 1976. We as Abahlali youth agree that the courage of the youth of 1976 must be celebrated. But we also wish to bring back the truth and the dignity of those youth who sacrificed with their lives in 1976. We need to make that truth and dignity a living force now. The struggles of the past must not be misused to silence the struggles of the present. The struggles of the past must be used to support the struggles of the present. Every generation must be free to take their own struggle forward.

We as Abahlali youth league have noticed the difficulties that we are facing at a grassroots level while our parents are struggling for us for a living. On June 16, 1976, the youth died for freedom, yet today, while we are told that we are free, it is clear that we are not free. We are not yet free while there is youth that are suffering from poverty, from child abuse, while we are still living in shacks, while we are still losing our lives due to shack fires. We are not free while we cannot get good education and so few of us can find any work. When we do find work we are usually temporary workers for the labour brokers. If we want to raise these issues we are not given the freedom of expression, when we should be free to raise our voices and express our grievances. Instead we get arrested and beaten.

We are the future of the nation. We are the driving force of this nation. But just because we are still unrecognised, still unemployed, poor and living in shacks we are still going to fight for our dignity. This is our lives, our future. If we do not fight for ourselves, for our generation, no one else will do it. Those youth of June 16, 1976, died for the truth and yet it is not revealed. We will carry on from where the 1976 youth left off.

But this time we will not let anyone tell us that freedom on paper is real freedom. We are fighting for real dignity, not just for lousy freedom on paper or a revolution that we are told about but that is not reaching us. We are struggling for a freedom that everyone can experience for themselves in their every day lives. That means decent education, decent work, a decent guaranteed income for those without work and a decent place to stay for everyone. It also means the freedom to organise as we want and to say what we want in safety.

We acknowledge comrades like Hector Peterson, Steve Biko and Chris Hani who died before we were told that we are free. But we do not want to acknowledge those who go around telling us that we are free now. The biggest question for us is if Steve Biko were still alive would he be ina  government that neglects the shackdwellers or would he be with the poor, in particular the excluded?

For us June 16 is also a day that brings painful memories. We remember our hero comrades Thembinkosi Mpanza and Vukani Shange who were brutality killed by the farm watchers who shot them dead while they were coming from school in June 17, 2006, happily singing the national anthem. They felt hungry and decided to eat two sticks of sugar cane and the farm watchers killed them. These farm watchers were working in the farm which is owned by Channel, a white male with no mercy.

Today is making us raise questions: how is it possible that we have arrived at the point where people have to take a people's government to court for such basic things as water and housing, which the constitution fully enshrines? These things are so basic that they should just be obvious. We shouldn’t even have to talk about such basic things. Just recently a South African court ruled in favour of the people's right to water. Guess who took the people to the appeal court to tried and overturn the decision of the judge? The government! The appeal court ruled in favour of the people. Guess who is thinking of appealing the decision through the constitutional court? The government! Who stood against the decision of the victims of the apartheid-capitalism to take the big corporate that benefited from this system to the international court? Who? The government!

Those boers and their vigilantes who killed Biko and Hani and Solomon Mahlangu and Hector Peterson and Muntu ka Myeza and Masabata Lwate and many others only killed the flesh. Their spirit lived on in the people’s struggle. But today the spirit of Mahlangu, Biko, Hani, Peterson and all the others is being killed by the current black boers. It is being killed here and now by our today’s oppressors. The boers failed to kill Biko and Hani’s spirit because their comrades kept their spirit alive and so it is the challenge of our generation to ensure that today’s black boers fail to kill our spirit and the spirit of the heroes of the past.

But it is hard. In this country we kill the spirit of Oliver Tambo and Biko everyday. Some of us hate other people instead of struggling against oppression. There is rape, xenophobia and hatred of LGBTI people. Some of us love beautiful things for ourselves but ask our brothers and sisters to endure conditions such as the Kennedy Road shack settlement. Yes that hate must come to an end. Yes the truth and justice must be told and fulfilled.

Today the government is busy wasting money to pass the so called, "Secrecy Bill" to hide its corruption that is making the poor became poorer and turning so many politicians into predators eating off on the suffering of the people. The challenges that the youth of 1976 went through was understandable because it was done by the government of the apartheid system. Today our own mothers and father are now in power yet they are not doing anything to uplift the youth. They say the youth of today are lazy where as there are no jobs for us. We are not being assisted. We call upon the investigation on the millions that were spent by NYDA on the event that they say it was for the youth.

It is not just us who are struggling. People are struggling everywhere around South Africa. We are not alone.

On the June 16, 2011 we will gather at Motala Heights shack settlement to commemorate the youth of 1976 and to discuss the challenges that the youth of today are facing. We call upon all the youth who feel neglected to join us on this day.

The struggle shall continue! A luta continua!

[Abahali baseMjondolo is the South African shackdwellers' movement.]