Kids, Teargas & Their Combined Legacy

One of the first victims of the uprising, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, being carried as his sister runs alongside him

Name a scenario in which kids and teargas might be an appropriate combination.

Try harder. I'll wait.

Ok, cool. Glad we're on the same page.

On June 16, 1976, police officers in Johannesburg felt as though they had found the appropriate situation for this combination, thus sparking the Soweto Uprising. Thousands of students were peacefully marching in response to oppressive education policies and were met by heavily armed police officers who fired tear gas and live ammunition leaving a disputed figure of about 575 dead. For this reason, South Africa celebrates Youth Day as a national holiday every June 16th to recognize the strength, power and courage of its youth.

The policies that students were marching in opposition to are policies that straight up defecated on the quality of their education. There are countless gruesome aspects of the apartheid but for young people, the Bantu Education Act was the ton of bricks that broke the camel’s back. As if "Bantu" was not already a derogatory term in and of itself, the act operated under the premise that, “There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community...where he is not allowed to graze.”

School funding became contingent upon the adoption of a discriminatory curriculum, this same funding was 1/10 of that of white schools, leading to student teacher ratios around 56:1. By 1974, the act required Afrikaans, rather than students’ native language, to be the main language for academic instruction. The byproduct of this was a rise in black consciousness, the creation of the South African Students’ Organization and a peaceful march turned deadly on June 16, 1976.

Every year this country honors those who lost their lives in the struggle but also reminds the youth of South Africa today that they do have the power to create the change that they seek. My June 16, 2017 was spent being inspired and entertained by the young people I see striving daily, in a system that is realistically not fully rid of a Bantu Education Act. Those who are given the opportunity to take a history class in high school may learn about the uprising at some point and feel empowered. The fact that not all of them learn this history in school, means there is still work to do...and as history shows, many of them are up for the challenge.

So while there is never an appropriate situation for the combination of teargas and kids, there is also never a rational reason to deliberately diminish the potential of black kids (whom they would not be oppressing if they did not see them as powerful). South Africa’s youth are not here for it, and neither are countless others worldwide.

Naa-Shorme | Creator, Write to Live

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