Had the blind, evil apartheid regime acted responsibly on June 16 1976, many a life would have been saved.
June 16 each year sees the class of 1976 reminiscing endlessly about that fateful day (Youth Day feature, June 15). It led to Hector Pieterson and Dr Melville Edelstein breathing their last so that we could be where we are today.
Had the blind, evil apartheid regime acted responsibly on that day, many a life would have been saved, but it turned its heavy artillery on the unarmed students of Soweto. Dustbin lids, stones and bricks were our only shield against the apartheid machinery.
The atmosphere of despair of that fateful day forced us to resolve to dismantle the regime in its totality. Some of us bid our parents goodbye and fled to other countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world; we took up arms. Others remained in South Africa to ensure that underground struggle structures remained intact and operational.
In exile and at home we sang in unison when laying to rest our fallen heroes and heroines – “Mababethwe, babuyise umhlaba wethu” (They must be hit, we must bring back our land). Our resolve to fight and reclaim the land of our ancestors was not negotiable. (At that time, section 25(2)(b) of our Constitution, the “property clause”, was nowhere in sight.)
Today, as student leaders of the time, we ponder what we can do best to honour the spirits of our fellow students who fell in that period. Compounding the difficulty is that we left our homes behind and went on with our lives. We omitted to remain close to the families of our departed fellow student cadres.
This omission deprives us of the honour of paying our respects to them. Such respect would have assisted in keeping the hunger for a quality education for each African child alive. We did not offer material support to the parents of our departed comrades.
Struggle for excellence
In some instances, their parents have also joined them in our ancestral villages. Rewinding the events of that fateful day 36 years ago, we seem to think – incorrectly – that the struggle for excellence ceased to exist when democracy dawned in 1994.
We fought for quality education not only for ourselves, as students at the time, but also for generations to come. Yet the ideal of quality education for all still eludes us. One felt the pain when the speaker in the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, lamented the quality of the legislation tabled there. If this occurs at the apex level of legislators, one can only hope it is not endemic in all three tiers of government. If legislation is incomprehensible, it is difficult to cure the defect in law. This perhaps also explains the confrontational relationship that often exists between the executive, Parliament and the judiciary.
Quality education cannot and should not be viewed as a problem of the education departments alone. It should be a broadly social issue and this ball is one that the class of 1976 also should not have dropped. A large number of members of Parliament are in their late 40s or mid-50s, which means they were students in 1976. In fairness to them, but without absolving them of their ultimate responsibility to scrutinise the quality of work brought to them, legislation is not essentially drafted by them but by researchers and drafters – bureaucrats who are supposed to be highly skilled and professional. Some of them should be the qualified children we fought for when we took on the defective education system in 1976.
We live in a demanding, sophisticated world. If we are to cope with it, we have to be more professional not only as parliamentarians, but as society at large. – Advocate Mahlodi Sam Muofhe