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Speech by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, Delivered at the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising held at East Bank Hall, Alexandra, Gauteng, 15 June 2016

Programme Director

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Programme Director, it is with a sense of awe and disbelief that today we meet to honour those amongst us who were fortunate enough to be on the right side of history on that fateful day, the 16th June 1976. I am indeed honoured to speak at this auspicious and historic moment, the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising.

The Soweto Uprising which began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid regime that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953. The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the formation of South African Students Organisation (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-Apartheid sentiment within the student community. When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves.

On 16 June 1976 between 3000 and 10 000 students mobilized by the Soweto Students Representative Council’s Action Committee supported by the BCM marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium.

On their pathway they were met by heavily armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students. This resulted in a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the regime. While the uprising began in Soweto, it spread across the country and carried on until the following year.

The aftermath of the events of June 16 1976 had dire consequences for the Apartheid regime. Images of the police firing on peacefully demonstrating students led an international revulsion against South Africa as its brutality was exposed. Meanwhile, the exiled liberation movements received new recruits fleeing political persecution at home giving impetus to the struggle against Apartheid.

It is within this context Programme Director that today we celebrate not only the bravely of the youth of ’76, but also 22 years of freedom, peace and prosperity.

Programme Director, it’s no historical revisionism to say that the year 1976 was the annus horribilis for the apartheid regime.  But, for the oppressed majority, it was a watershed moment. A moment of renewal! A reawakening of a giant! This is within a context that the Soweto Uprising came following a lull in political activism in country since the 1973 Durban Strikes. The events of June 16 shook the very foundations of the apartheid regime. For the first time since the Sharpeville Massacre (21 March 1960) the apartheid regime teetered on the brink of its own Political Waterloo. The 1976 generation irrevocable changed the political landscape at home and abroad. We mortally wounded the grand apartheid “neat” narrative of a happy, “Native.” For the international community, it became increasingly difficult to turn a blind eye to the horrendous nature of the apartheid regime.

So, Programme Director, we can safely say the 16th June 1976 marked the reawakening of a sleeping giant amongst the peoples of the world. The events of that day had a snowballing effect in that those who survived made their way into exile to strengthen the people’s armies. Simultaneously, the issue of the “Native” was back on the agenda amidst the implementation of the doomed grand apartheid plan. Finally, the international community began to seriously consider the “Native Question” in South Africa.  It became clear that the “Native” was not free to roam the streets of his birth, let alone protest an act so unjust that it caused children to revolt.

The iconic image of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying a dying Hector Pieterson graced the front pages of both local and the international press and through television, it brought the “Native Question” in their living rooms. We salute Sam Nzima who captured that image that brought the true extent of apartheid horror to the world.  For many around the world, it was too much to bear, as they subsequently rallied behind the call for the freedom of the “Native” in his land of birth. For a few superpowers of the time, indeed, it was business as usual. However, for us, the oppressed, it was indeed a poignant moment in our struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.   For the cause of freedom, the 16th June 1976 shook the Struggle out of its moribund state. From then on, an increasingly isolated apartheid regime began limping from one disaster to another until it crumbled under the sheer weight of the power of the oppressed. It sought for many years after ’76 to cling to and ultimately retain a controlling share of power, but the writing was on the wall. It had increasingly become clear that apartheid could not be reformed, but it needed to be dismantled in its roots.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (known fondly as the "Arch) wrote recently that to appreciate the contribution of the children of 1976 to achieving our democracy, it’s important to contextualise their actions in the horror of the time.

As we know, the context is that in the ’70, the apartheid regime was busily engaged in deadly scheme to implement grand apartheid delusion. Among its key activities was making life in the cities as nasty and unpleasant as possible for black people, to discourage urbanisation. The regime was on the high on the back of its fallacious success in crushing the anti-apartheid resistance of the ’60. Many anti-apartheid leaders were imprisoned or had been forced to exile. The grand but doomed apartheid plan was for whites to remain citizens of South Africa, while blacks would become citizens of their own ethnic homelands – even if they had never been there before.

In his miniature memoirs, a fiery critic of our education transformation project, one Professor Jonathan Jansen contends that the legacy of June 16, 1976 lies in its reawakening of activism that has changed student political culture to this day. Prof Jansen correctly argues that the 16th June ’76 moment marked “…an awareness of the power of the student voice and significance of student movements.” He adds that the events of 1976 no doubt hastened the path to democracy.

Programme Director, we must hasten to add that the 16th June 1976 was more than just the issue of being taught all subjects in Afrikaans, but in reality, “we were confronting indignity, inhumanity and deep injustice of the time”. 

The horror of it all still haunts us to this day. We have forgiven but not forgotten. We have moved on but not turned our back on history. We are free but the legacy of apartheid looms large on the horizon like shadows of Dinosaurs.

As our country celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising the governing party, the ANC and people of South Africa salute all the heroes and heroines. We salute those who were in the frontlines of this game-changer. We salute mothers who disguised the activists as women in the aftermath of the massacre when the apartheid regime had unleashed the army and the brutal police force. We salute those who fell in the cause of freedom. We salute the survivors left to nurse the scars that never heal. We salute those who went into exile and joined the people’s army, the MK. We salute those who stayed put and continued to fight the regime at home. 

Programme Director when the winter of discontent threatens to engulf us, we must always be cognisance that the heroic actions of the 1976 generation which saw many young people lose life and limb were not in vain. South Africa of today is far, far better than that of the year 1976. Today, we walk tall in the land of our birth secured in the knowledge that we are free, that our Government is based on the will of the people and that everything possible is being done to change the material conditions of our people.

The Soweto Uprising was more than just about the imposition of the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction but it was multidimensional. Amongst many layers - it was a struggle against the apartheid regime and secondly it was the total rejection of the Bantu Education. The Bantu Education system provided schooling that ensured that African learners in particular and in black learners general remained on the periphery of every aspect of the society. During that period, classrooms were overcrowded with the majority of teachers who taught our black children having no proper qualifications.

Forty years later, the situation has dramatically changed for the better. Thanks to the governing party which has since 1994 prioritised education and ensured that the state of schools and the quality of education received the attention it needed. As a result, millions of children are now receiving free quality education.

Since the dawn of our democracy in 1994, major interventions aimed at strengthening and raising performance of education at all levels have been made and they are now reaping handsome dividends. This has ensured that the doors of learning are indeed open for all as espoused in the Freedom Charter. While all the interventions are impressive; we as the governing party strongly believe that the ANC led government must ensure that education is free for all at all levels including undergraduate studies so as to address the dire shortages of critical skills needed by our economy in-order for it to flourish.

We also believe that young people of this country should rally behind the historic mission of making education an apex priority. We are certain that as we embark on a radical second-phase of our socio-economic transformation aimed at putting the economy on an inclusive growth path, education will remain at the centre of all our efforts.

We call on young people to be wary of the emerging political charlatans who use young people’s plight for their own political gains. It is only the people’s movement led by the ANC that has a clear plan to deal with unemployment, underdevelopment and poverty.

As our National Development Plan (NDP) outlines, this radical second-phase of socio-economic transformation will be characterised by economic empowerment and job creation ensuring that South Africa indeed moves forward to prosperity and success. As such as government we will continue to draw strength from the resolutions of governing party’s 53rd Manguang Conference which, amongst other things confirms education as an apex priority for the country.

Challenges Facing the Youth Today

Programme Director as we reminisces about the heroics of the 1976 generation, we can least afford not to talk about the challenges faced by the youth of today.

We must today declare drug and alcohol abuse as the enemies of our freedom and democracy. Alcohol and drug abuse in particular, are slowly eating into the social fibre of our communities. At this point, Programme Director, allow me to express our deepest condolences to the former South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board member Hope Zinde’s family. Ms Hope Zinde was more than just a mother – she was an activist, ethical journalist and an astute businesswoman. Zinde’s death is not just a tragic loss of life but the loss of innocence of our nation. We now know that Zinde’s son has been arraigned before our court for the murder of her own mother. We also know that at the time of his arrest, he was found in possession of the deadly concoction of drugs. We must say enough and no more! We must rediscover our humanity and restore basic family values. We must in unison say no to drugs, alcohol abuse and all anti-social behaviours. I want to suggest such a stance would be a fitting tribute to the 1976 generation.

Speaking at the 37th Anniversary of Soweto Uprising, President Jacob Zuma articulated the challenges facing the youth today. The President said a salient point in this struggle for a better life is:

 “The fight against drugs and substance abuse; the fight against crime and gangsterism; the fight against child and women abuse; the fight against teenage pregnancy and truancy as well as the fight against mob justice and xenophobia.”

He lamented that the youth have become slaves of drugs such as Nyaope, whoonga, tik and Kubar amongst others.  Others are slaves to alcohol abuse.

Thus, our special message to the youth of the Republic today is that all of you must become an integral part of the struggle against all these cancers that are painfully eating our society.  I urge the youth of today to fight the scourge drugs and alcohol abuse with the same vigour that,

“We fought apartheid and the same zest that is displayed in our successful fight against HIV and AIDS today”.

 As we witness on daily basis drug and substance abuse have serious implications for the millions of citizens because they contribute to crime, gangsterism, domestic violence, family dysfunctionality and other forms of social problems.

Programme Director; we must collectively respond more vociferously than ever, to the cries of the youth of Eldorado Park, Mabopane, Westbury, Mamelodi, and other areas who are facing the onslaught of drugs. As we speak today, many parents are in pain, as they watch their children deteriorating and their lives being destroyed by drugs and alcohol abuse.  

As Government and our various partners, we are implementing the Anti-Substance National Plan of Action. I urge young people to play an active role in ensuring its success. Young people need to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that all drug peddlers are removed from our communities. Together with various communities, we have created over 215 Local Drug Action Committees around the country that are assisting communities to manage their own preventative work at grassroots level.

Read to Lead

Programme Director, beyond social ills, there is something more arcane and fundamentally wrong with our society today - we don’t have a culture of reading. Reading statistics indicate that only 14% of South Africans are readers of books and only 5% of parents read to their children.

In my view, the best way to honour the 1976 generation in a meaningful way is to complete the chapter that they had started but never completed – that’s pursuance of education through active reading.   To underpin the importance of reading, let me invoke wise words of an eminent scholar, author and former professor English/Classics, Richard Mitchell, he eloquently put it:

“Literacy is not, as it is considered in our schools, a portion of education. It is education. It is at once the ability and the inclination of the mind to find knowledge, to pursue understanding, and out of understanding and knowledge, not out of received attitudes and values or emotional responses, however "worthy", to make judgments.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Council (UNESCO) has declared literacy as a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. We must consider literacy thus reading as at the heart of basic education for all. Research shows a causal relationship between a literate nation and reduced levels of poverty.  Literate societies have low child mortality, steady population growth, and are likely to achieve gender equality. There is now an established scientific fact that literate societies have higher sustainable economic development, and most likely to enjoy lasting peace and democracy.

In this regard, the outcome of a good quality basic education is to equip learners with literacy skills for life and further learning. As argued above, literacy impacts on society in several ways namely, literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing developmental agenda.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines reading literacy as:

 “Understanding, using, and reflecting on written texts, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society”.

The former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan summed it beautifully when he declared that:

“Literacy is a key lever of change and a practical tool of empowerment on each of the three main pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.”

Programme Director, in our quest to get the nation reading, we have launched a campaign dubbed Read to Lead. This is a four-year campaign to create a national focus to improve the reading abilities of all South African children.  It seeks to provide energy as well as direction and inspiration across all levels of the education system. These include schools, homes, churches, and malls to name just a few.

Our programme of action is to ensure that by 2019 all learners are able to demonstrate age appropriate levels of reading.  The campaign is a national response to national, regional and international studies that have shown over a number of years that South African children are not able to read at expected levels, and are unable to execute tasks that demonstrate key skills associated with Literacy.

Getting young people to read and write for school, for leisure, and even in the world of work, is a critical aspect of the development of the social fabric of our country.  We need to ensure that South Africa becomes a reading nation. In this regard, I challenge all of you to start Reading Clubs and register them with your local library and the Basic Education Department.

I thank you!

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Written By: WebMaster WebMaster
Date Posted: 7/14/2016
Number of Views: 1486

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