It is 38 years since the students uprisings sparked off at SOWETO and spread to other African Townships all over the country when these students said enough was enough and revolted against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in African schools. The students who had declared war and were on the warpath against the apartheid slave education based on racial discrimination and racial segregation buttressed by the white supremacist ideology were joined and supported by the entire oppressed nation including parents, teachers, civic organizations, community based organizations, church organizations, church leaders, workers, above ground and underground structures of the banned liberation movements.
Those students who survived the massacre and the brutality of the racist war machine, escaped to exile, joined and swelled the ranks of the liberation movements. These are the students who came back home as guerrillas to fight the apartheid security forces and the entire state machinery that terrorized the entire oppressed nation and the neighbouring Frontline States that gave shelter to the freedom fighters and supported the liberation of the oppressed African people of South Africa. 38 years now those young students are men and women (adults) and leaders in many areas of endeavor but the system they fought against, sacrificed, suffered and even paid with their lives for is yet to be radically changed and destroyed, especially economically and socially.
The apartheid economic and social structure has remained intact and is characterized by concentration of wealth and property in the hands of the white minority now joined by the post-1994 African political, bureaucratic and business elites and the new African middle class, the so-called “Black Diamonds” who constitute the “les nouveaux riches” are enjoying the fruits of freedom whilst the masses of the poorest of the poor, the have-nots and the dispossessed are still wallowing in abject poverty and squalor 20 years since national freedom was attained on the 27 April 1994.
As we commemorate the 38th Anniversary of the students’ uprisings triggered at SOWETO and spread nationwide, the quality of education they fought for, is far from being achieved as seen in the conditions in schools in the African communities in the townships/ghettoes and rural areas. There is no need to belabor this point except to say that there can be no quality education without the change of the existing material conditions in these schools, without committed and quality teachers supported by an efficient and effective administration and this implies the need for capable administrators who have authority of competence and can inspire discipline and respect in the school system, otherwise the education system will continue to be dysfunctional and thus betray what the 1976 school children who are now adults fought for, suffered, sacrificed and died for as we enter the “Second Transition”.
There can be no excuse not to effect radical transformation of the existing neo-colonial system if we claim or pretend to stand for the poorest of the poor, the have-nots and the dispossessed of this country. There can be no real change or transformation if we keep on tinkering and not decisively dealing with the underlying causes of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The underlying causes as many people have repeated so many times are systemic and structural. Unless the ruling elites move away from the neo-liberal paradigm and its concomitants buttressed by the ultraliberal constitution in place in this country, there shall be no radical transformation of the economic and social structure or existing property relations.
Firstly, the sunset clauses and related legislations must be abandoned so that the ruling elite can act without constraints or restraints. If they do not act decisively to change the existing apartheid economic and social system or existing property relations of course more radical parties will emerge and will one day take over and bring this about and this will be done with more anger as poverty, unemployment and inequality shall have deepened and worsened and these conditions shall have radicalized the demands of the poor. We hope the Second Transition will rid itself of the compromises that deferred the expected changes that the poor and the have-nots looked forward to post 1994. The ruling elite must also rid itself of idealism based on empty promises and formal rights and freedoms which are meaningless to the poor.
The poor must have food on the table; they must have decent or adequate shelter; their children must receive quality education; quality health care and above all there must be peace and security in their communities or environment. These communities must be free and be protected from the anarchy and mayhem that are prevailing in many locations in this country such as in Cape Town where drug peddling, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and gangsterism are the order of the day; people living in fear and total insecurity; schools being disrupted and school children afraid to attend classes and teachers afraid to teach while there are security forces seemingly being part of the problem or afraid to face the gangsters or drug dealers or barons.
The generation of 1976 showed the way when they challenged the apartheid system with courage and determination. They never retreated and compromised in the face of the most ferocious and brutal force unleashed against them and the arrest and elimination of some of the leaders of the uprisings. They never looked back until national freedom was achieved. Where is that courage and fearlessness today? To effect radical changes or transformation in this country today we need the courage of those students who are adults today and some of whom are leaders in government and other public and private institutions or maybe they have joined the middle class or the “Blaque Diamonds/Black Diamonds” (i.e. les nouveaux riches) and have forgotten what they fought for in 1976 because they are now comfortable now and not prepared to risk what they have and their status or positions.
The courage that is needed today is to make decisions for the interests of the poor and not for the interests of neo-colonialists who own our land and its wealth below and above ground. We need courage not to appease and not to be apologetic. Whatever radical transformation that must be undertaken must be based on distributive justice. This means those who have must be prepared to sacrifice part of what they have so that there is equitable distribution which will permit equal access or equal opportunities for all otherwise the sacrifices made and sufferings endured in 1976 shall have been in vain for the poor whose children lost their lives, some still unaccounted for and others maimed for life. We know that owning classes like ruling classes never voluntarily abdicate ownership or power without resistance thus leaving the only alternative being confiscation or expropriation. This will be the only route to follow if the ruling elite are serious about radical transformation of the existing property relations inherited from the apartheid system.
Izwe Lethu! I-Africa!
By Molefe ‘Ike’ Mafole
The writer is a Member of the PAC of Azania (PAC) and the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) Military Veterans Association. He can be contacted on 072 630 2206.