To summarize the previous post in this three-part blog on Youth Day, Dan Roodt believes that the day is part of a propaganda machine to burn, destroy and kill their benefactors, all under the guise of a revolt against the oppressor forcing their language on the victims merely trying to learn in schools.
The aim of the propaganda was to gain the attention of the world because the protest organizers knew that without international isolation and sanctions, nothing would change and the power and wealth would remain in the hands of the minority. With factual accounting of burned schools, and over one hundred deaths in a nationwide revolution, it is hard to argue that there was not a legacy of arson, destruction, and the regrettable murder but the question is, was the loss of human life any different from the inevitable casualties of any war ever waged where two sides fight for domination?
SAhistory.org traces the uprising back to policies of the then Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act of 1953. One area where this version aligns with Roodt’s is in the acknowledgment that the language of Afrikaans was not meant to replace English in schools, as is the common misconception today, but was to compulsory as the medium of instruction alongside English from 1974 which is when black students began mobilizing. On June 16 1976, between 3,000 and 10,000 student protesters marched peacefully and were meant to culminate at a rally at Orlando stadium.
Heavily armed police reportedly blocked the marchers by firing teargas and then live ammunition which caused widespread revolt starting in Soweto and spreading across the country and continuing into the following year. Both Roodt and SAhistory.org agree that the international revulsion to images published throughout the world had dire consequences on the Apartheid government but Roodt would disagree with the characterization of “police firing on peacefully demonstrating students”. SAhistory.org points out the bonus effect of the uprising was the influx into exiled liberation movements of those fleeing political persecution.
The architect of the Bantu Education Act was H.F. Verwoerd who said,
“There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community”.
Education was part of the apartheid system and the purpose of this act was to train Africans in ways that would facilitate their adoption of the roles of servant and laborer only. A system of segregated and unequal education was already in place long before the apartheid regime came to power in 1948. Black education was underfunded as can be seen from the 1936 inquiry whose actions were not acted upon.
It is hard not to sympathize with the black population who had changes forced on them from a heavy-handed government bent on “resorting to radical measures” for the “effective reform of the Bantu school system”. From 1953, where state-aided mission schools had control removed from churches and provinces and centralized with the Bantu education department and financing thereof was separated from general state spending and linked to tax revenues of Africans which resulted in the per-student spending on whites versus black students being vastly different.
In 1959, the Extension of the University Education Act, ended black student enrollment at white universities and tribal colleges for black students were created. Underfunding was exacerbated by overcrowding as a pupil: teacher ratios increased from 46:1 in 1955 to 58:1 in 1967 and a lack of qualified teachers and by 1961 only 10% of them had themselves completed the final year of high school education. No new schools were built in Soweto between 1962 and 1971 because the department of Homelands policy intended to incentivize students moving back to their homelands to be educated. 1972 saw the building of 40 new schools in Soweto because of the pressure placed on government by business and by 1976 the number of people enrolled in school had trebled while 20% participation rates were low.
It is clear, from this depiction of the circumstances and events leading up to the Soweto uprising on 1976, that the disparity between education of black students and white counterparts was worsening under the Apartheid government when it could not afford to do so because it had been an injustice in even the previous administration. This inequality of opportunity presented to black, Indian and colored students fomented in the hearts and minds of the oppressed population and resulted in a protest that would be the beginning of a struggle for liberation from the apartheid government.