The ninth anniversary of the Soweto student uprising of 1976 will be commemorated this weekend in an atmosphere more tense than any previous June 16 commemoration.
As people will gather at meetings and memorial services around the country, the focus will be on two key questions:
- Will Sunday pass quietly, or will it, like so many other commemorations and funerals in recent months, become the start of another round of unrest?
- Will the commemoration services provide an opportunity, as is intended, to bring together rival opposition groups? The seriousness with which the authorities see the situation is indicated by the fact that they are considering using mounted police for the first time in the event of unrest in Soweto.
In Johannesburg, the main focus of attention will he Soweto’s Regina Mundi church, where the United Democratic Front and the National Forum are holding a joint service. The two organisations have formed a joint June 16 committee to plan and coordinate the commemoration day. At a Press conference earlier this week, the committee said they were organising the meeting to show that they respect each others differences.
Saths Cooper, a National forum representative on the committee, called on people to observe Sunday as “a day of serious reflection on events that have led to our being in this sad, divided and volitiale situation it is today. “We believe there are certain elements outside our formations that are bent on destroying freedom and peace in our country,” he said.
The committee called on all businesses and sporting bodies to close down their operations at least one hour before the commemoration service in their area and to remain closed for the rest of their day. June 16 takes place this year against a background of almost constant unrest in different parts of the country and the bitter – sometimes violent – clashes between rival political groups.
The tension has been heightened by a claim that white mercenaries were planning to abduct a number of key black leaders, including Bishop Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane, Saths Cooper and George Wauchope. These people are understood to have taken precautions to counter the threat.
The Manyano Women’ Club, which derives its membership from a number of churches, will lead a protest march from Moroka Police station to Regina Mundi shortly before the commemoration service on Sunday.