On 16 June 1976 the South African apartheid government, which had been trying to force Afrikaans on the schools in Soweto, saw the results of their destruction of the education system instituted for the Blacks in South Africa break down when the young people of Soweto went on a strike from their school system and rioted in the townships.
Shootings by the police on that day and subsequently saw South Africa erupt with riots, assassinations, police state actions and worse leading to suppression equal to the worst apartheid control ongoing for the next 18 years.
Then the unthinkable occurred - boycott, divestment and sanctions helped bring the apartheid regime to its knees and the apartheid government released Nelson Mandela and others, negotiated with them and in April 1994 the first democratic election occurred in South Africa.
End of apartheid and a "new world order" for all South Africans - or so we all believed until August 2012 when 34miners were killed by police - mostly blacks killing blacks - at Marikana - the largest massacre of civilians in South Africa since Sharpeville in 1960.
So deep an impression on the world in 1994, so forgotten completely 40 years later so that no main stream media seem to have remembered this historic event which changed the world's perception of the original apartheid state to the extent that the world now shuts the other apartheid state out of sight, out of mind - Israel maintaining the largest concentration camps in Palestine the world has ever known and practising apartheid with a concentration that shows how much further the South African apartheid regime could have gone.
June 16 1976: The day youth changed South Africa's history
A placard from the student protest. The events of 16 June 1976 were sparked by the apartheid government imposing Afrikaans as the language of teaching in black schools.
- This Youth Day, follow real-time tweets of the events of 16 June 1976 on @SA_info via the #SowetoUprising hashtag.
Protesting Soweto students in 1976. (Image: Doing Violence to Memory)
Background: An education denied
By 1976, the frustration had been building for a generation. Young black South Africans knew their schooling was the worst in South Africa.
The mood at the start of the march - before the police opened fire - was hopeful and excited. (Image: South African History Online)
It is a Wednesday morning, 16 June 1976. Today, the Soweto Students Action Committee have organised the township's high school pupils to march to Orlando Stadium, as a protest against the government's new language policy.
The children of Soweto were in high spirits at the promise of the protest. (Image: Doing Violence to Memory)
Students gather at Naledi High. The mood is high-spirited and cheerful. At assembly the principal gives the students his support and wishes them good luck.
There have been a few minor skirmishes with police along the way. But now the police barricade the students' path, stopping the march.
By Thursday 17 June 1976 the student uprising had spread to Alexandra township in the far north of Johannesburg.
The placard in the centre reads: "Vorster and Kruger shall not go to heaven."
In 1976, JB Vorster was prime minister of the apartheid government, and Jimmy Kruger his minister of police.
The placard on the right - partly cut off - reads simply: "Don't shoot. We are not fighting."
(Image: Doing Violence to Memory)
The marchers arrive at today's Hector Pieterson Square. Police again stop them.
Dr Malcolm Klein, a coloured doctor in the trauma unit at Baragwanath Hospital, is on his break when a nurse summons him with a look of utter distress on her face.
Bloodied, injured and dying students were ferried to Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. (Image: Doing Violence to Memory)
"I followed her and was met by a grisly scene: a rush of orderlies wheeling stretchers bearing the bodies of bloodied children into the resuscitation room," he recalled later. "All had the red 'Urgent Direct' stickers stuck to their foreheads ...
After the first massacre, the students flee in different directions. Anger at the senseless killings inspires retaliation.
Fires continue blazing into the night. Armoured police cars later known as "hippos" start moving into Soweto.
The uprising spreads across South Africa. By the end of the year about 575 people had died across the country, 451 at the hands of police.
2 389 of them. During the course of 1976, about 5 980 people are arrested in the townships.
Sources and additional information
This is largely an edited and condensed version of the timeline published by South African History Online in the feature The June 16 Soweto Youth Uprising.
- 16 June 1976: 'This is our day'
- The day Hector Pieterson died
- Hastings Ndlovu: Forgotten hero of 1976
Read more: http://www.southafrica.info/about/history/soweto_1976_timeline.htm#.V2dY7KJ5qct#ixzz4C5GprPHg
16 June ’76 – Remember Dr Melville Edelstein – the life & death of a good manKevin Harris productions
[Broadcast on SABC 2 “Issues of Faith” on 16th June 2013 @ 09h00]
Click here to view the video
Dr Melville Edelstein’s tragic slaying in Soweto on 16th June 1976 by a mob of enraged township youth, is the direct consequence of a racist system that socialized its citizens to judge & respond to one another impulsively on the basis of skin colour stereotypes – rather than evaluating people as individuals with their own particular differentiating personal qualities.
The central character is philanthropist, Dr Melville Edelstein.
Dr Edelstein’s goal was to serve humanity.
By all accounts he was a good man who cared about people as individuals.
This caring attitude towards every individual brought about his demise on the 16th June 1976.
Knowing that the situation was volatile – after ensuring that others had moved out of Soweto to safety – Dr Edelstein made the fatal decision to drive back into the township to check on the safety of a colleague.
His colleague had long moved out of the township to safety and Dr Edelstein – caught up in a mob of enraged students – was dragged out of his colleague’s office and brutally slain.
Under the circumstances, Dr Edelstein was slain because he was white.
His death was the direct consequence of the racist system of apartheid which socialized South Africans to impulsively judge and respond to one another not as individuals with individual qualities, but according to a stereotypical image based solely on skin colour.
In this context, as a white man – following shortly after the shock brutal police-shootings, in the volatile heat of that moment – Dr Edelstein represented the oppressor and in that “mob situation” the crowd of black students instinctively avenged the killing and wounding of fellow students by police earlier that day by taking the life of Dr Edelstein.
In his private life, Dr Edelstein carried the pain of rejection by his eldest child and only son Michael from his first marriage.
Despite repeated ongoing attempts to reconcile, to his dying day, Dr Edelstein was rejected by Michael who – in a final act of rejection – legally changed his surname from Edelstein to Lyall.
“16 June ’76 – Remember Dr Melville Edelstein”, is the life-story of Dr Melville Edelstein – brutally slain by a crowd of enraged students in Soweto on June 16th, 1976.
Deputy Chief Welfare Officer of the West Rand Administration Board [WRAB], Dr Edelstein was a philanthropist who over the years instituted many community projects for the Youth & the Disabled in Soweto.
A practicing orthodox Jew, Melville Edelstein was apolitical & dedicated to serving the good of mankind. He was also a pacifist who refused to enlist for World War II.
Before his death, he worked closely with the youth of Soweto & produced a prophetic Masters thesis intended to warn the Nationalist Party Govt of their looming collision-course with Black youth, titled, “What do young Africans Think”.
Highly respected as an academic, Melville Edelstein had the ear of Prime Minister of the day, John Vorster – as well as influential ministers in his Cabinet.
Despite this, his warnings went unheeded.
On June 16th 1976, the youth of Soweto took to the streets to register their rejection of the institution of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in “Bantu Education” schools.
That morning, Dr Edelstein was hosting the official opening for a branch of his Sheltered Workshop Program designed to provide employment for the disabled in Orlando East, Soweto.
When news of the student uprising reached the project, the ceremony was brought to a hurried end as dignitaries and workers were ferried out of the township.
Concerned about the safety of a colleague – Pierette Jacques, back at the Youth Centre in Jabavu – Melville Edelstein drove from Orlando East through crowds of gathering students to get to her office.
“I told them it was going to happen”, Samuel Thlotleng, a social worker at the Central Western Jabavu office heard Dr Edelstein cry as he rushed into the office instructing his staff to leave immediately.
When Melville Edelstein finally emerged from his office later that morning, the political temperature had long been raised by police shootings in the township & he walked straight into the wrath of a seething crowd of enraged students.
Shortly there-after, news photographer Peter Magubane came across the disfigured remains of Dr Edelstein’s body – a crude sign hung around his neck with the words,
“Beware, Afrikaans is the most dangerous drug for our future”.
“If they’d known who he was, this would never have happened”, Magubane was quoted as saying.
“16 June ’76 – Remember Dr Melville Edelstein” is the little-known story of Dr Melville Edelstein – a philanthropist who chose to work within the confines of the Apartheid system to serve the poor & oppressed. In so doing he brought hope & light into the lives of many of Soweto’s destitute & marginalized community.
Caught in the back-lash to the most oppressive phase of the Apartheid era – Melville Edelstein was the victim of the consequences of the apartheid system – a racist system which socialized South Africans to impulsively judge and respond to one another not as individuals with individual qualities, but according to a stereotypical image based solely on skin colour.
The Scream - Edvard Munch
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