“Dr. Melville Leonard Edelstein, one of only two white men who died in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976 – murdered as a direct consequence of his compassion. This little-known struggle hero’s origins were typical of almost all first-generation SA-born ‘Litvak’ community. Edelstein was born to Lithuanian- and Latvian-born parents, Nachum and Rose Edelstein, in 1919. But Melville Edelstein was by no means typical.”
It is practically impossible to quantify the full extent of what happened on this tragic day in less than a thousand words but we have seen, in the previous two posts, that there exist widely varying understandings of events based on one’s vantage point.
From the Afrikaner policeman perspective, who felt an obligation to keep the peace in a country whose leadership had conspired to legislate a system of segregation which breed a lethal cocktail of hatred toward their oppressors, there was undoubtedly a panic at the realization that they were heavily outnumbered by the crowds.
From the protesters perspective, there was a desire to show the size and strength of the forces who felt the apartheid system was infringing on their basic human rights and the hatred to those who enforced these draconian laws.
I will use this concluding post to highlight a perspective of yet another slice of the population of the apartheid at the time of this uprising and for that I go to the story of Dr. Melville Edelstein, a social worker, who was brutally murdered by the crowd on the very day under discussion.
I encourage you to watch the three-part video series in order to get a sense of the gentle spirit of this Jewish man who empathized with the racially segregated black people of Soweto on account of the fact that his family had immigrated from Russia before the world wars and experienced the kid of anti-Semitism prevalent there.
His name is listed among the six in the list of deaths recorded on SAhistory.org but sadly this is a slight that ought not be and perhaps is an omen for the pattern of hiding all facts that don’t fit into the current ruling parties narrative. Another white person’s name is not among the list of eight that died that fateful day. Dan Roodt does make mention of his fateful end in his piece and states that this is possibly the most important perspective of the entire day of rioting which has unfortunately “faded into obscurity”.
Dr. Edelstein had devoted his life to helping the under-privileged in his capacity as deputy-chief welfare officer of the West Rand Administration Board. He was a doctor of psychology and had written a thesis titled “What Young Africans Think”. He had left Israel to return to live and work in the community of Soweto for 18 years because he believed that was where he could best serve humanity.
He had driven away from the approaching hoards of rioters, but in character with his virtuous life, he turned back because he was concerned for a colleague, a young white lady who may not have been warned. Ms. Pierrette Jaques did get word in time and was safe but he was dragged from the office in which he hid and stoned to death in a blind rage, his body further desecrated by a sign about his neck which read, “Beware, Afrikaans is the most dangerous drug for our future”.
George Bizos, a lawyer affiliated with the South African Communist party says, “if only they’d known who Edelstein was, they would not have killed him”. Roodt rightly points out that rioting crowds never stop to think about who they kill in the heat of the murderous rampage.
This is a very complex problem and it is too common, and hopelessly unfruitful, to rush to place the blame on certain parties at the absolute exclusion of others, usually the ones you identify with. Some blame the police for first shooting at the crowds, others at the crowds to exacting revenge, still others at the leadership of the country and the inhumane laws that were passed to deny a segment of the population rights just because they were born with a different skin color.
As human beings, we are born with the seeds of hatred planted deep within our hearts and we are prone to notice the speck in someone else’s eye without considering the log in our own. When we relate to each other in ways that diminish and detract from the ideal of loving one another, as Christ taught us, we sow the seeds of discord, fear, suspicion, hatred and envy and the harvest reaped thereof often leaves the most righteous amongst us the worse off, as in the case of Dr. Edelstein.