COMMENT: Youth Day 2020 – The link between the Young Turks of Soweto and George Floyd.

By Chris Bishop and Nic Wolpe

Forty four years on and still black people are being attacked and despised on the streets of their country. On the 16th June, we pause to remember the South African schoolchildren who stood up against heavily armed police for their rights and paid with their young lives. A sad reminder of what vicious brutality, at the hands of police, went before the tragic death of George Floyd.

The desperate days in South Africa when the lives of schoolchildren clearly didn’t matter to the authorities; the late photographer Alf Kumalo was there in Soweto, risking his neck to take pictures, on that dreadful winter’s afternoon. Years later he told, with horror, how he saw police tossing the dead bodies of schoolchildren in a pile in the aftermath of the shooting that claimed at least 176 lives. Rarely was more blood spilt and innocence lost in Africa in a single clash with authority.

The memory of all can be best served by remembering and discussing the causes all sacrificed for. The youth of Soweto rose against the apartheid system. They were fighting against a system of instruction in schools, in Afrikaans, that condemned many of them to a life of servitude. In the words, borrowed from the Bible, of the architect of apartheid – Hendrik Verwoerd – such an education made the youngsters: “nothing more than drawers of water and hewers of wood.”

Both the Soweto uprising and the killing of George Floyd have their antecedents in the same deep seated racism whether it be in the classroom or the street. You can be sure the young Turks of Soweto in 1976 would have taken to the streets in support of George Floyd.

The howl of protest from Soweto was enough is enough; 44 years later we are seeing the same anguish emanating from the United States. The killing of George Floyd has sparked mass demonstrations around the world crying out for change.

The commemoration of the ‘76 Soweto uprising chimes with the massed George Floyd demonstrations with people saying they are no longer going to tolerate the brutality dished out to people based on their skin colour. The behaviour of some US policeman towards their black fellow citizens in not only deplorable, it is also a microcosm of this systemic racism that has seeped into every pore of US Society.

It affords us, in South Africa, opportunity to stand with our brothers and sisters in America to shout with one voice that enough is indeed enough. We won’t sit silently by and accept racist discrimination in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter.

It may have taken decades, but many of the young bloods of Soweto lived to see their children and grandchildren grow up with the chance of a brighter future with more opportunities. Let’s hope the children of the revolution in the United States protests will be able say the same in decades to come – if not sooner.     

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