For many South Africans the June 16th 1976 events symbolized a brave campaign organized by young people against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools. But there is a story untold about the events that took place prior to the 16th of June 1976, the events are crucial because they prove that the Soweto Uprising was necessitated by the impact of colonialism, in the political, educational and social aspects. It is through colonialism that the education system in various African societies was commodified, used as a tool for political propaganda, used to both create a maintain class divisions and in our context it was used to enhance racial divisions, each will be discussed further below.
The precolonial African societies were constituted on the basis of communal order, in such societies it can be argued that Africans were able to engage in economic systems, social, and political activities such as; subsistence agriculture and farming, hunter gathering, rearing livestock, conducted the administration of initiation schools, slaughtering cattle or goats for ancestral rituals and spiritual purposes, solving conflicts through the traditional courts and of course participating in the wars of disposition. These basic human resources observed in African societies were then transferred collectively by members of the community to the younger generation through basic educational systems in order for them to appropriately relate, administer and perform the tasks. It is important to note that the process of socialization in the African societies during this epoch prioritized the stability and wellbeing of the collective; this means that the education system was used for the advancement of society, maintaining its values and shaping the African civilization.
With the arrival of the first European-settlers-cum colonizers in our shores the communal societies was faced with the introduction of European modernity and marked the destruction of the African civilization. This is evidenced with the commodification of the education system through the expansion of the so called missionary schools in our soil. Admissions to the schools deepened the societal stratification that already existed in the pre-colonial African societies, in some schools only the children of the missionaries, the chiefs and those that owned some portions of the and were admitted, and you may ask, what happened to the children of the peasants? Well many of them had to start working in the farms that were confiscated by the Europeans immediately when their parents were getting old and could not offer any cheaper labour anymore.
Karl Polanyi in his book, The Great Transformation, best describes the assertions shared, when he said that, “To separate labour from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organisation, an atomistic and individualist one.” This means that the education system reflected the forces of production, and played a crucial role in the advancement of the division of labour and its commodification. The market utility in such societies strives on rapid forces of production in order to maximize on the accumulation of surplus value gained through the alienation and exploitation of the working class and the poor masses.
The apartheid regime intensified the legacy of colonialism in the education system through racist legislation such as the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which divided education based on class and race and maintained the racialized class divisions. The education system was then transformed from being a mere commodity, into a political propaganda and a tool to systematically orchestrate a society that can be defined as that of humans (white people) and sub-humans (African people) at the same time as that of slaves (African labourers) and slave owners (white capitalists, especially white men). The legislation also proves that education was used to enhance patriarchal values and norms, for instance young African women were meant to be taught household duties, while young African men were subjected to offer hard labour in big industries.
When the students guided by the working class and the poor took to the streets on the 16th of June 1976 they were demanding an end to the legacy of the colonial type education system necessitated by the deep conditions that we have defined. However as Karl Marx argued in the Theses on Feuerbach (1845) that, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it” The current generation needs not to only to draw inspiration from the youth of 1976, but needs to take the baton and continue moving forward with the struggle against capitalism that many of us today have inherited from the colonial order.
As we have seen that the youth of 1976 threw stones against the brutal and racist armed forces, the youth of 2017 need to take the stones and play a significant role in the process to rebuild Carthage, as African city that symbolises the wealth of knowledge of African people and their developed civilization. The process to rebuild Carthage will be meaningless without the authentic struggle towards economic emancipation of many young people, therefore it is important that the current student leaders and progressive youth formations wage a revolution for the following demands in order to appropriately honour the youth of 1976:
- Call for increased access of education and skills; this requires closing the gap between Universities and the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector by improving infrastructure in TVET, introduction of education tax, and by building more institutions of higher learning.
- Increased youth wage subsidy; such is important to create jobs, because the captains of the markets will receive incentives, but this does not mean that the jobs of young people must not be protected through labour laws.
- Increased public works programs and job transition through the state; the state needs to employ university and TVET graduates (especially those that received NSFAS and or any other bursaries from the state). In this way the state will be professionalised and be able to attract the best young minds that get consumed by the private sector.
- Increased funding on initiatives that promote entrepreneurship skills and opportunities for young people.
- Curriculum change and review; history, political sciences and international relations must be introduced to high school students. This will play a huge role in the process to produce ideologically and politically matured young people and most of all create cadres that love and know their country.
- Refurbishment of closed light industries in the townships and upon renovations be transferred to the ownership of young people.
Young people remain the most important motive forces in any revolution, therefore they need to unite, define their generational mission and wage a revolution! Most of all young as the progressive motive forces, young people need to be at the forefront in the struggle for economic emancipation of the African people, especially the working class and the poor. This will mean that young people will play a significant role in implementing the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as a progressive ideological guidance towards the fulfilment of the full liberation of the African people, and towards attaining our generational mission. This also means that young people must lead the African National Congress, defend it, keep it alive with new revolutionary ideas and keep it relevant in the hearts and minds of the South Africans.
Collen Malatji is a former President of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and a former member of the National Executive Committee of the South African Students Congress (SASCO).