World Cup: Marking the Soweto Uprising with a ball
On the day etched in South African history by Sam Nzima’s photograph of 12-year-old Hector Pieterson dying in the arms of fellow student Mbuyisa Makhubu it felt only right that I should be heading back to school.
Thankfully in Orange Farm the education system has come along way in the 34 years since Pieterson’s murder. These kids are encouraged to aim for the stars while in Pieterson’s day the legislation skewed right through the dreams of youngsters.
Natives must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans is not for them
(Education policy of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, former Prime Minister of South Africa)
It was the school children themselves who took exception to a policy that reared them to be slaves in their own country. Pulled together by 19-year-old Tsietsi Mashinini over 20,000 kids started out on march towards Orlando West Secondary School on 16th June 1976.
The underprepared South Africa’s security forces reacted by setting dogs on the marchers and unleashing vollies of teargas. When the waves of protesters continued to pour forward police began firing indiscriminately into the crowd.
The sun came up on Soweto the next day to reveal burnt-out vehicles littering the roads, symbols of the apartheid razed to the ground and 200 dead school kids.
The riots continued for the rest of the year and spread to townships in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. An entire generation of South Africans demanded to be heard and the significance of their actions was recognised by Nelson Mandela when he declared the 16th June a national holiday shortly after taking office.
Among the staff in Orange Farm yesterday were those who had been the same age as Hector Pieterson and living in Soweto at the time of the march. While the kids in Orange Farm live under the bread line they at least enjoy the civil freedoms which were bartered for by the blood of their parents.
Kids such as Mabizela Maliwa, who blew the roof off with the first public reading of his poetry, can dream of showing his sonnets to a worldwide audience. The drumming and dancing of the Sekunjalo Theatre Group will soon be showcased to thousands when they perform at FIFA Fanparks.
Then there are the kids from last week’s Spanish lesson who are still offering a warm Bienvenidos a Granja de Naranja and remain as keen as mustard to take any opportunity that comes their way.
With 200 size fives dished out to the kids courtesy of Unicef backed scheme ‘Let’s Play’ whose to deny that one day soon Orange Farm may produce the next Didier Drogba, George Weah or Adebi Pele.
On such a positive day where the past was recognised and thanks given for the future it was a shame to be brought down by a dissenting voice in the crowd. So much of my time in South Africa has been filled by passionate and proud people, in this atmosphere the odd voice of dissent grates even more.
Unlike my last visit to Orange Farm I was not the only daytripper present and I had to put up with a local hack over my shoulder admiring the rhythm of “those people” during the drumming and dancing display.
This same species of self-loathing South African has popped up a few times during my stay and tends to proudly pronounce themselves a fan of England rather than “Banana Banana”.
Theirs is a dead world where bad news is greeted by another bolt on the door. The dead world is so extensively mapped out with places not to go that it reaches right up to their electrified fence. In this dead world the victims are dying, soon their days of looking down on Hector Pieterson will be a thing of the past.
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