Reflection From Mark Mathabane Essay Example
Throughout the writings of Mark Mathabane and Iris Berger, as well as the interview with Seth Mazibuko, it becomes clear that while there were several specific events that prompted South African students’ demonstrations in June of 1976, there are also more deeply rooted themes within these events. To fully understand what exactly caused the first massive demonstration in Soweto on July 16 as well as the subsequent protests and conflict which arose from this protest, we must understand the larger scope of South African history. As is well explained by Berger, Mathabane, and Mazibuko, the focused context of the Soweto protests pertained to the implementing of Afrikaans as a forced medium of instruction in South African schools.
The Soweto Uprising video and Mazibuko’s interview well explain the implementing of this mandate through the Afrikaans Med...
ium Decree of 1974, as part of Bantu Education. The decree was made in an attempt to “forcibly reverse the ‘decline of Afrikaans’” and reaffirm the presence of apartheid oppression, as Afrikaans was viewed by South Africans as the “language of the oppressor”. While this attempt at disrupting and disabling black South Africans’ ability to gain an education equal to that of white South Africans’ is what Soweto students rallied behind and aimed to dismantle, Mazibuko explains that “The African’s issue was seen not only as just about medium of instruction, but it was seen in its fullest context . . . we had to point at a particular issue”.
Though the students were upset by and aiming to undo one specific mandate, the “bigger picture” of what they were fighting against was the system of apartheid and the oppression of black South
Africans through it. Tim Modise goes on to comment that, while the Soweto students’ protests were what sparked other South Africans into action, “people were just waiting for the opportunity” to rise up against apartheid. This conversation sheds light on the direct cause of the large demonstrations in June of 1976, forcing the use of Afrikaans in education throughout South Africa, but more importantly beings to unwrap the overarching causes of the demonstrations; Britain’s attempt to deter the dwindling use of Afrikaans by South Africans as an attempt to reaffirm apartheid control over an increasingly weakening system of oppression.
Because of these more deeply rooted causes of the demonstration in Soweto, there were far-reaching impacts as well. The immediate results of the demonstration were of violence; once students began to march to the capital, they were met with police blockades and eventually violence. As the Soweto Uprising video and Mazibuko explain, estimates of up to 700 student protestors were killed in the violence on June 16, and many more were arrested, tortured, and disappeared in the following years. While at first glance this violence was caused by students’ protesting the implementing of Afrikaans in schools, the reasons behind it reached far past one demonstration and onto decades of racism, white supremacy, oppression, and oppressors’ fear of losing control over black South Africans.
Because of these more deeply rooted issues, felt by all black South Africans under the terror of apartheid, when the demonstration was met with such mass violence, further retaliation was inspired. Now that people had been given the opportunity they had been waiting for, many responded with outrage and determination to tackle apartheid. Students, laborers,
and new generations continuously became driven to act, and, although it was certainly not a clear-cut, easy, or short path, this rise of resistance continued to grow until apartheid government could no longer oppress the people. Discussing an essay “No Middle Road” by Joe Slovo, the Soweto Uprising video sheds light on Slovo’s stance that “the government had only the choice between more repression and overthrow by the revolutionaries” and the impact this had on South African’s mindset for the future. With their inability to control resistance, disapproval from media, other western countries, and white South Africans, and their labor markets and economy floundering, the apartheid government began to crumble. With such massive ripple effect from a seemingly small issue, the history of apartheid and underlying reasons which sparked Soweto students’ demonstrations and such powerful resistance following police violence against the students cannot be ignored.
After reading about and studying these events in South Africa and their role in the downfall of apartheid, I could not help but think about how student protests in the United States today compared to those of the Soweto students’. Specifically looking at the protests surrounding gun control in America and gun violence in U.S. schools, I see similarities with how the issue being tackled through protests is crucial but also represents a small part of a much bigger issue. For students in Soweto, the smaller part, the implementing of Afrikaans in education, represented the larger issues of apartheid as a whole. For students in the U.S., the issues being protested were gun violence and control. However, this was a small part of a much bigger issue for many young Americans;
destructive leadership, abuse, violence, and bigotry within the U.S. government.
Apart from this theme, I also saw that of violence inspiring resistance both in Soweto and U.S. students’ protests. For Soweto students, it was the violence they were met with by police that then fueled other students and adults across South Africa to retaliate. However, there was also decades of violence prior to the death of Soweto students that also fuel their demonstrations. For students in the U.S. it was the senseless violence against children that had been allowed to continue, and allowed to continue today, that sparked marches in Washington and across the country. I see this background of violence and the outrage against it in both instances and wonder if history will unfold in the U.S. in ways similar to how it did in South Africa. In South Africa, it seems as though the violence against young people was enough for black South Africans to declare “enough is enough”, as Tim Modise states in his interview. Such violence against students was the nudge over the edge, a line that was simply too outrageous to cross. While I would like to think Americans would respond in the same way, it has been proven time and time again that we simply do not.
Even exponential increases in deaths of children and gun violence in schools has not caused action to be taken. Perhaps this is a difference in values or perhaps it is a difference in history. This is the first time children, especially white children, are experiencing violence in their schools, compared to the decades of violence committed against black children in South Africa prior to
the Soweto demonstrations. Only time will allow us the outcomes of this issue in America. We may not be able to skip to the future, but we can fight to determine what history will unfold. Just as those who fought against apartheid in South Africa could not know their own future or that of their country, America’s youth cannot know if we will succeed in banishing the violence, fear, hatred, and cruelty that is taking place in our world today. All we can do is continue to fight.
When it comes to white people associated with Mathabane, how they reacted to the Soweto protests was touching but unsurprising. In his novel, Mathabane describes Wilfred’s shock both that Mathabane survived the violence in the ghettos and about the atrocities he describes happening in his home. When Wilfred brings Mathabane to speak to other white people about what is happening, many of them have the same reaction, and are startled that such violence is allowed to be inflicted against blacks. Again, these responses seem genuine to Mathabane and are important as they show these whites understand that what is happening to South Africans is unjust and horrifying; however, they also display their ignorance about what blacks must endure and the immense racism that the South African government believes in and enforces through apartheid. These white individual’s ignorance is also shown in the way they ask Mathabane for an explanation to why blacks are so upset, when one is blatantly unnecessary. Some whites also have a very different reaction, insisting the South African government is trying to save black “savages” through white religion, and that blacks are refusing this
help from whites through unnecessary and violent retaliation. These views are extremely racist and Mathabane becomes frustrated and angered, yet he tried to remain calm and explain the reality to these whites.
Comparing how students organized in South Africa during apartheid and how students in the United States today are organizing, one must think of the difference in technology. Cell phones, social media, television, celebrity support— while U.S. students today have almost unlimited access to these resources, how did South African students unite without them? I personally believe there are both pros and cons to how these technologies affect social issues and how people organize against them. Both Mathabane and Mazibuko discuss how South African students were both horrified by the events in Soweto and enraged by their lifelong endurance with apartheid. Students did not have the platforms of social media, they did not have that online environment to come together and speak out as a united mass, a space to feel heard and supported and see how many others shared their pain. However, where that environment lacked, their shared physical and mental experiences made up.
I think that because they lacked the sort of platform social media provides, they readily rallied together when they were presented with the opportunity to speak out and fight against their oppression. As a member of the American youth, I personally see a lack of this readiness for action in our organization against social injustices. I feel that our ability to speak out online and come together in that digital space functions as an outlet for our anger and frustrations, however, I feel that the energy we often put into these
outlets can take away from the energy we have to push for change in the physical world. I also feel that the enormous number of individuals which come together online can create a false sense of active change—I think many see these large numbers and assume there must be change occurring if so many are against the injustices. This is rarely the case, and because of this assumption, I feel young people often fail to get involved in the organizations and actions that actually force change in areas such as legislation and political response.
However, I wholeheartedly believe that access to technology does bring many benefits for young Americans fighting for social change today. Cell phones, social media, television, and celebrity support all increase awareness of social issues drastically. These technologies allow people who are not being directly impacted by the injustices to become educated on what is occurring and involved in the fight for change. An example of this can even be seen in the way many countries began to speak out and fight against apartheid in South Africa when images and information began to more heavily circulate in new and on television. Overall, I believe that in some ways the action taken by South African students was more powerful because they did not have technological outlets in addition to physical ones, although I do see the many benefits technology has when it comes to fighting social injustice, and I feel South African students were able to unite because of their shared experience of the horrors of apartheid and the deep impact apartheid’s oppression had on them throughout their lives.
The student protests in Soweto and
those that followed the violence of the Soweto Uprising were extraordinarily brave, powerful, and influential as the ultimately sparked the downfall of apartheid in South Africa. Despite facing the disadvantage of a lack of access to technology, the students were able to unite and force action against the injustices against them and all black South Africans. Through Mathabane’s personal commentary we can see the different ways whites in South African reacted to the events in Soweto and the violence that followed, and the impact their responses had on Mathabane. The struggle of South Africans, particularly students, in the years that followed the Soweto Uprising and before the downfall of apartheid was immense; but it was South African’s power, determination, and courage that finally lead them to triumph over their oppressors.
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