To many Namibians, 16 June has no significance as it doesn’t echo any bells, neither does it evoke any emotions. On the other hand, to some Africans, it is a nightmare.
Sadly for a few who know about it also only limit it to South African history, as the events that led up to it, being formally recognised by the AU in 1991, took place in that country.
Firstly, to understand its significance and relevance to our nation and Africa as a whole, we need to first know and understand what happened on that fateful day.
The day 16 June 1976 is one of the dark days in the history of South Africa and indeed Africa as a whole. This is what became known as the Soweto uprising. On this day, a group of fearless youth particularly students from different schools in Soweto organised themselves and formed a strong coalition to fight back at the biased educational system that was imposed on them by the apartheid regime.
This was because, the regime had tried to impose Afrikaans language as a mandatory medium of instruction for all schools in the country, regardless of their homelands, as the Bantu educational system was used at the time. This system segregated education systems by classifying people based on their languages and geographical areas. For students, this meant, enough was enough, and racial tensions had just reached a boiling point.
The students congregated and marched for a peaceful demonstration in Soweto, but unfortunately, it ended up in a cold blood bath, after the heartless apartheid police force opened fire on them.
The Soweto uprising’s relevance to our Namibian struggle is that most of these policies were not just limited to South Africa, but also imposed in then South West Africa, which later became independent Namibia. This meant, whatever was decided on the national level in South Africa, had a spiral effect on us, as we were regarded as a mandatory state, under it.
In addition, the Soweto uprisings became a pivotal event and one of the foundations that sparked, the mushrooming of many radical youth organisations and activism that incepted the struggle both in South Africa and Namibia. Not just in education but also politics, and labour protests that followed later in the years. This is what gave birth to the International Day of the African Child as we have come to know it today.
Though, we are free today and don’t have to toyi-toyi, burn necklaces or run from the canine units of the apartheid police, let us not be naive and oblivious to the realities of our time. However, the times and the world have changed, more needs to be done. The struggles of 1976 may not be the same as those of today, but narratives remain the same, as the struggle for freedom, justice and equality in all the spheres of our lives continues.
In hindsight, the youth of 1976 have done their part to ensure that equality exists in our societies today. They taught us courage, fortitude and resilience. They also taught us that the fight for the right cause will always be victorious despite all the hardships and barricades along the way.
It is, therefore, time for us to grab the button and carry the economic struggle of our people. Tsitsi Mashinini, Hector Peterson and many more others did not just die in vain, but they died for a bigger cause, which was to have freedom, justice and equality for each African child.
It is thus equally important for us, to teach our children about this important event in African history. Therefore, as parents, teachers, religious leaders and all community leaders, we have a responsibility to devote the same amount of time that we normally give to other national events such as Heroes Day and so forth.
In closing, even though we are living in the trying and dangerous times of Covid-19, where we cannot gather and celebrate such an important event, we need to find ways to make sure the message of the day reaches each and every African child.