”Written byIndio Friedmann
The Soweto Uprising on June 16 th 1976 was not amassed by fleets of older military men, heavily armed and inviting violence.
Nor was it anarchists swarming on our own version of the “Capitol.” Rather, the Soweto Uprising began with the raised political consciousness of the youth during a pivotal moment of the apartheid regime. This was a clear revolt against the Bantu Education Act, enforcing Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in South African schools. These students were liberators of their own minds, using their voice and their bodies to show that freedom is inherent. These students were peaceful but determined, brave but vulnerable. This day honours these students, these breakers of chains and should be a reminder of the power that sits in the youth, then and still now.
Alongside a setting of extreme racial discontent, the generational gap between the elders and youth of a community is not unfamiliar.
I see them as growing pains for the young and almost a mourning of powerlessness of what will become for the old. Here, it is important to understand the nature of the relationship between the generations who sit on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Robert Greene (historian and author of The Laws of Human Nature, 48 Laws of Power and the Art of Seduction) explains the time-honoured tradition of the dissonance between the younger and older generations, namely the generation phenomena. I myself (and undoubtedly speaking for others) am privy to this tension when engaging in conversations or putting across my viewpoints as I am often met with a condescending “You will see when you are older,” “When I was your age…” or quite literally just “Millennials these days!” (ehrm I’m actually on the cusp of Gen Z and Alpha). Meyer Reinhold explained this idea as trying to mould the younger generation in its own image but failing miserably each time.
What is threatening about the youth is the change in values that we bring over time. It is our strength in and opportunities of our longevity that are frightening for those clinging to their disappearing power. So this dynamic is worth exploring on Youth Day, where those students still continue to inspire change today. “I’m going to be me as I am, and you can beat me or jail me or even kill me, but I’m not going to be what you want me to be.” – Steve Biko
A generation is essentially a group personality. It determines who you are and creates a generation zeitgeist – a spirit of the times. When I say the 60s, it’s hard not to think of the disconnect between the psychedelic, free spirited and loving youth and the conservative traditionalist thinking elders. I can hear them now “Marijuana is the gateway drug…Rock music is the devil’s music. ” Greene explains, “The younger generations are always unsettled, they don’t like the way the world is and they want to change it and create new values, fashions, styles. Whilst they are generating all of this energy to change – the older generations seem to want to conserve and preserve these traditions that they inherited. These two seismic forces are continuously clashing, creating this zeitgeist. This follows an incredible pattern – firstly there is the generation known as the revolutionary generation, in which it overturns all of the previous ideas and values and creates true revolution. Then followed by a generation that tries to preserve itself and turn it into something more rational and sane. Thereafter, there is a very conservative generation that has lost touch with the revolution and is all about safety and keeping what happened in the past.
Lastly, the crisis generation who get so sick of the stagnant situation and of the values they’ve inherited that they’re unhappy and dissatisfied, ultimately leading to the revolutionary generation. And on and on and we see that this cycle continues to happen.”
So again, The Soweto Uprising of June 16th 1976 was not amassed by fleets of older military men, heavily armed and inviting violence. It was led by the revolutionary generation so in touch with their inherent worth and dignity, so angry at the loss of their human value. These students are undeniably heroes of their time and ours. When I revisit photos from that day, inspiration courses through me. The scenes remind me of what should have been ordinary school days filled with galas or sports days, cheering for their house to win. Screaming out anthems of support and praise for their team. How differently I faced life. Look closely and at every face, instead of fighting for their house, these children fought for their basic human rights. Instead of competing against other teams, they competed against an inhumane heartless regime. They demanded to be heard. And so the government responded but not with understanding nor kindness nor compassion for its youth – its future South Africa – but with our children’s blood – quite clearly a show of their fear of change.
“In a considerable measure, our freedom was due to what young people such as yourselves did 40 years ago, not very far from where we lived in Soweto, where Hector Pieterson was shot and killed. But you are fantastic. Reach for your stars because now you can be anything and everything you want to be.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
One day, I hope to have the same courage to seek change as these children did on the 16th June 1976. And change is coming, it will always come whether it is unannounced, uninvited or simply on time. Change is and will always be in the power of our youth.