The South African youth of 1976 were revered for their vocal tenacity against the Bantu education curricular. Their objections were against a system that promoted segregation, inequality of educational subsidies and the endorsement of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, to students who regarded it as a third language.
The statement by the then political tyrant minister Verwoerd is reminiscent, as it highlights the ruthless intention of the then government as he stated “There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice?” The Act was meant to strip the students of their sense of dignity; self-worth, pride, self-respect through psychological servitude. They were being affirmed of their nonage within the South African spectrum by implanting the idea that their worth to society is merely as labourers. By denying them their fundamental right, that of education obliterated their right to being taught in a language of instruction they understood, they could comprehend, that allowed them the freedom to express themselves.
What use is education when one is forced to be taught in a language of their oppressor, a language that is a constant reminder of their barbaric label, a language that reminds them of their despondency in a land of their fathers, a language that reminds them that the white walls that house them in the corridors of education serve as a constant reminder of who’s master in the land of injustices and inequality. They had a yearning for education and they were prepared to delve six feet deeper in search for what they believed was their right, and a right they richly deserved. Their stance was grounded on the belief that they will not succumb to the socio ills permeating their environment due to inequality, they denied to be subjected to merely being housekeepers serving the elite who were well off due to their colourless palette. They refused to be counted among the numbers employed in the mines, gardening and housekeeping, they were emotionally exhausted of the pass system that infringed their freedom of movement and their consciousness of their dilapidated socio economic environment prompted by the political system.
The class of ‘76 was motivated by the hunger to free the shackles of oppression and they used the one medium they believed would “free” them from their dire circumstances; “Education”. To them it represented a doorway to luxury, to contentment, to paradise, it meant that should one be educated the title of barbarism would be stripped bare, it meant acceptance and acknowledgement, it meant adding some colour to the white walls, it meant being one with the master, that finally they will lose the servant title, that they will be counted among the rest in suburbia avenue. They were salivating and the urge loosened the hold grudgingly held by the supremacy, they tightened their fists, beat the ground and cried out “enough is enough” spit on our grave as you wish but let it be known that we can’t be beaten down any longer, you may insist on shaming us but we refuse to be insulted and demeaned for our hue. They were exalted for their bravery, determination and tenacity. They fought the war, men down they persevered. That was the class of ‘76, they were bold and defiant. Their camaraderie was exalted and the nation was awakened.
Decades later their predecessors have a different war on their hands. Faced with obstacles such as financial privations, unemployment, HIV epidemic, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. With the slogan “This is our time, take the next step.” However how do we expect them to raise the flag for the class of ’76 when the social structures seem to be failing them? We burn down the facilities that are meant to educate them, we rape, molest and abuse them and leave them scavenging for food in dumpsters. The societal fabric is drenched with social imbalances where the finer grey lines being every bit black and white. Their parents still working for the Jones and expected to pay for their walk down the corridors dressed in black cloak at a cost. Well something has to give, be it forfeiting a plate of food so that their kids can afford to be counted amongst the rest in academia. Prostitution is considered a means for financial- aid or be it selling drugs on street corners.
The new age war for post class of ’76 may not be the fight against the Afrikaans medium of instruction but rather as the #feesmustfall movement proved is a fight against the walls of government that appear to be failing them. However one might add, they have become the voices for their elders making it known that enough is enough and their promises for better education, security, and housing are long overdue. Tyre’s are burned, teargas sprayed, comrades jailed, fists pumping the air in defiance, so goes the script for the current generation. Hardly a contradiction to the chapter from the book of 1976, with the only missing stanza being the mention of bloodshed but then again their fathers wrote that paragraph in Marikana. Still we emphasize, this is their time, and they should take the next step.
A student in rural South Africa walks a minimum distance of 6 km for schooling, at times barefooted, taught under a tree and makes use of a long drop as a toilet, then again we say this is their time, they should take the next step.
A female student has to do without a week of class due to lack sanitary towels, but we say to them this is their time, they should take the next step.
The unemployment rate is 26.7% and a qualified student finds it difficult to join the job market. Then again we say this is their time, they should take the next step.
A student whose parents are battling to make ends meet has to register at varsity however lacks the financial means of generating registration fees, then again we say this is their time, they should take the next step.
‘Them’ having to take the next step requires having to play catch up to the giant steps ahead. A possibility a few of us can measure up to, as not all of us are born with a silver spoon and for the rest our colorful palette has failed us. Hence taking the next step means walking a rocky path riddled with poverty, heading households and lack of infrastructure. We expect them to push the envelope however the structural imbalances drawn on the very fabric of our society earthed such dire enmity that unfairly marginalized economic structures, hence perpetuating the fight for economic emancipation, amongst our youth. The gap between the haves and have not became ever so evident within the road to academia, where their paths collided in the corridors of realism. What was once a distant dream became a reality through their telescopic hazel eyes, and the walls of illusion came tumbling down like the Berlin wall. The unjust status quo was no longer just historic but had become a reality. The realism of white privilege became ever so evident due to the brightness of the pearly white walls and as they stood toe to toe with the statue of Cecil John Rhodes they realized, who they were and who they are, are one and the same.