Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, June 16, 2006

Soweto uprising

Today marks 30 years after the Soweto uprising against apartheid South Africa. In this weeks Socialist Worker there is a good article by one of the activists involved, Bruce George. Here is an extract:

'Soweto, an abbreviation for the south western townships of Johannesburg, was a sprawling black city of between 1.5-2 million inhabitants. It was lacking in most facilities. Some 86 percent of homes were without electricity, 93 percent without a shower or bath. In early 1976 its unemployment rate was 54 percent. In 1973-74, the government spent 17 times more on educating a white child than on a black child.

This reflected former prime minister Verwoerd’s observation that, "There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice." The only prospect for young blacks was either unemployment or starvation wages. Being forced to learn the oppressors’ language was just too much. At the end of 1975 and early 1976 students from schools in Soweto met and organised action against the teaching of Afrikaans.

They set up the Soweto Student Representative Council. The students decided to organise a demonstration on 16 June calling on the government to withdraw its proposals. When the police opened fire on the demonstration it started a wave of rioting that spread over a period of 18 months to every black township. The riots lasted until early 1978 in the Eastern Cape.The rebellion was the work of black youth in the townships. They seized and maintained the offensive in Soweto and Cape Town. They called for, and organised, two massive solidarity strikes in late August and mid-September in the areas where the youth movement was strongest. They organised demonstrations, sit-ins, school and bus boycotts and the township youth were engaged in constant battles with the police.

In the Cape it was the mixed race youth, dubbed “coloured” by the apartheid regime, who swept into the leadership of the rebellion. Under apartheid they were defined as a separate race, but by proclaiming their unity with their African brothers and sisters they nullified the regime’s efforts to buy them off with a status slightly higher than Africans and Indians. Their status was being undermined by measures such as the reintroduction of influx controls for coloureds, the imposition of forced labour for coloured youths, as well as the massive removals of coloureds in the Western Cape.

The movement rejected the leadership of the black middle class, particularly those who were engaged in running the townships – the Bantu Administration Boards were staffed in the main by those who collaborated with apartheid for their own personal gain. The movement’s anger was aimed not only at the property of the Bantu administration, but also at the organs of black collaboration. The puppet parliament of the Bophuthatswana Homeland was burnt down in Mafeking.The fires of revolt burned on for well over a year. The youth overturned the stooge council responsible for running Soweto in June 1977. This was a great achievement but the regime was gradually able to reimpose control by wholesale repression. Seven hundred recorded deaths, mass detentions and the suppression of October 1977 finally broke the back of the black consciousness movement.'

Today the South African Government of Thabo Mbeki are commemorating the uprising, but its pro-business policies offer little hope to young South Africans today. It is not surprising that 'many of the youngsters appeared to lose interest as Mr Mbeki's speech continued, and started drifting towards the gates.' The struggle continues.

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At 11:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work with a company called TurnHere that makes short films of interesting places around the world. They've made one about Soweto that I thought might be of interest in light of the anniversary of the events of 30 years ago.

I work with a company called TurnHere that makes short films of interesting places around the world. They've made one about Soweto that I thought might be of interest in light of the anniversary of the events of 30 years ago.


At 11:01 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Wow great link - thanks for your comment. I could only watch with the sound off but it was still interesting to see some of the historic sites of South African struggle. Cheers.


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