The resilience of the class of 2020 brings hope
By Kwazi Mshengu, MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal
This year’s June 16 is going to be the first one since the dawn of democracy not to be celebrated through mass gatherings where our Republic and her people remembers the resilience and boldness of the young people of 1976 and the Soweto uprisings that changed the course of South African history.
The Corona Virus which has been the reality in our country for more than 100 days now, has made it illegal for people to gather in numbers and June 16 celebrations are no exception.
It was a sheer coincidence, but a very significant symbolism, that the basic education sector decided that learners were going to go back to school after the lockdown on the Month of June, which is the youth Month in this country. Even though many people were apprehensive (understandably so) as we ventured into the great unknown, the decision to reopen schools was taken in the interest of our young people and with the sole aim of securing their future, while making sure that learners and their educators are safe.
When we visited schools on 08 June 2018, we were inspired and encouraged by the attitude and boldness of our young people. Our learners showed no sign of fear as they went back to school. Instead of anxiety, we saw young people with the sparkle in their eyes and spring on their steps. Their demeanour and body language was awe-inspiring and it reminded us that it was young people in this Month of June in 1976 who did the unthinkable and approached the enemy with nothing, but victory in mind.
This gave us hope that even the enemy of Covid 19 that we all face today is going to be conquered in the same manner the youth of 1976 fought and conquered what was meant to oppress and kill them.
We are now more persuaded that with young people being the majority in the country, as it was the case with the apartheid machinery, Corona Virus is soon going to belong to the museums of history.
While we were welcoming our educators and learners back to school and having taken a collective resolve to fight this pandemic head on, another enemy resurfaced. The claims of institutionalised racism in some of our schools in the country as told by many of former learners who happen to be black, would be disturbing if it was not outright regressive. Racism, whether perceived or real, is an antithesis to what young people of 1976 fought and died for.
Here in KwaZulu-Natal we were confronted by disturbing allegation of racism at Durban Girls College where more than 5000 people signed an online petition against what they called institutionalised racism in that learning institution. Upon learning about these allegations, I personally went to the school to get the school management’s side on the matter. After a lengthy discussions, where I made it clear that racism is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated, they agreed to support and be part of the investigation which is led by Dr Judy Dlamini.
As a country, racism remain one of the insistent feature, an albatross which has been weighing heavily on this otherwise great nation for decades. In the same manner Derek Chauvin pressed on the neck of George Floyd, suffocating him to death in the most diabolical of ways, racism suffocates this nation and short circuits the great potential of this country and her people.
That enduring shocking image of George Floyd suffocating to death, as in the enduring image of the young Hector Peterson, must mobilise the world and our country in particular, to act with collective might against the demon of racism.
It is very unfortunate that in this world we call modern, there are still people who believe that some are inferior or superior only by virtue of the level of their melanin or lack thereof. Even with the scourge of racism, as with other social ills, we rely on and ask our young people to take the lead in fighting and defeating once and for all, this persistent demon of racism.
In His seminal book, entitled Black Skin White Masks, Frantz Fanon, wrote about what he called cognitive dissonance, where people protect their core belief in spite of glaring empirical evidence to the contrary. Fanon wrote, “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong, when they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely comfortable called cognitive dissonance. And because it is important to protect the core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit with the core belief.”
This is the case with some people in our country. Some among us refuse to shake their “core belief” that black people are lesser human beings and they hold on to the belief that black lives do not matter.
Our young people must come out in numbers not only to give evidence to break into tatters this core belief, but they must unite, rebuke and break this backward core belief into million negligible pieces. This counter revolutionary core belief and a demon of racism must be challenged and we believe that the exuberance and resilience of young people is the very potent weapon in this critical time in our history.
As we celebrate the resilience of the class of 1976, let the class of 2020 find strength, knowing that they are standing on the shoulders of other young people who refused to be conquered by evil. The story of young people of 1976 must constantly be told because as Chinua Achebe wrote, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always favour the hunter.”