On June 16, 1976 I was eleven and in standard 4. We were living in the suburbs of Johannesburg when the the riots in Soweto, just to the South West (South Western Township) hit the news. My amazing father immediately explained what was happening and why, and he went into a rage when the ignorant, conservative, National Party parents wanted to organise patrols around our school to protect us from ‘die swart gevaar’. With every news report my father spoke to us about the truth of the striking children; how they were the same age as I was, how they were forced to study in Afrikaans, how terrible the conditions of their schools were, how totally different their lives were from our protected and privileged ones, and how they were fighting and dying for change. I have never been more lucky to have had that father.
On June 16, 1986 I was in my final year of studies at U.C.T. It was the year when things exploded again and Cape Town was the final city to be put under a ‘state of emergency’. We attended UDF rallies led by Allan Boesak, marched the streets, held illegal meetings in Crossroads and Lavender Hill, hid secret pictures of Nelson Mandela and the ANC logo in our rooms, suffered the banning of plays and performances, watched friends be arrested and tortured and struggled to believe things could and would change.
On June 16 1996 I had been living in Cape Town for two and a half years, had voted in the first free and fair election in 1994 and was celebrating the second ever Youth Day, twenty years after Hector Pieterson died in his friend’s arms, and was frozen in an image that would be recognised everywhere in the world. Hector Pieterson, who died at the age of twelve.
On June the 16 2006 I had been married for two years and a month. On that Youth Day I was no longer a youth. One of my biggest concerns, as I used the public holiday to do my own stuff around the house, was that it felt like everyone was just hanging out; that nobody was remembering the why and how of Youth Day.
Today is June 16 2010, 34 years since the Soweto School Uprisings. We are celebrating the sixth day of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, here in South Africa. It is a fantastic way to celebrate Youth Day, as we all get behind our mostly young team Bafana Bafana, who play Uruguay this evening. Hosting the FWC here in South Africa has been nothing short of a miracle; in spite of the strikes, the transport problems, the hard-core dictatorship of Fifa and even the winter weather that has included snow, rain and plummeting temperatures. In spite of all that could, did and will go wrong, this global event has done so much to bring South Africans, and Africans together. I’m not expecting it to last forever. Our country’s problems are real and urgent. And sometimes what we all need is a reason to celebrate.
But every Youth Day I remember that Hector Pieterson was a only a year older than me when he died. He would have been 46 today.