By Richard Moleofe
Leaving the gymnasium at Botswana Defence Force’s Sir Seretse Khama Barracks, one would not expect to hear the cheering sounds of Amandla with the thunderous response of Awethu. These were the words of the innocent ones, the little children of the BDF Pre-School and Day Care Centre. The teachers had been going through the paces with them practicing the chants in preparation for the Day of the African Child.
This is the day commemorated across Africa remembering the events of June 16 in 1976 in Soweto, South Africa. This is the day when many children were killed by the forces of evil of the South African Police. They had been deployed in the townships to put down the riots.
This was the beginning of the young people’s active involvement in fighting the apartheid government of the white minority rule in South Africa. It began with the introduction of Afrikaans as a compulsory subject in schools. Black people were already suffering under the Bantu education policy which came into place in 1956. Bantu education was a watered down education designed to meet the needs of producing servants. This type of education was not seeking to produce doctors and engineers. Those were professions set aside for white children.
As if this was not enough, the white government wanted to lord it over the black children by forcing them to study Afrikaans. The children resisted and took the war to the enemy by littering the streets and refusing to be educated in the language of the oppressor.
Hector Peterson has become the symbol of the student struggle of 1976. It is so with him because he was the first victim of the massacre of the day. The Hector Peterson monument stands on 8287 Khumalo Road in Orlando West, Soweto. The monument commemorates the role of the country’s children in the struggle for equality in South Africa.
This commemoration has now become continental. It is now for all of Africa’s children as against South African. The moral of teaching today’s children about this day is to remind them of the importance of education. But above all, that there is no oppression that will keep them down.
The focus is no longer in South Africa but rather it has shifted to stopping all forms of oppression in the continent. African children continue to live under oppression and suffering. African children are going through a series of challenges that threaten their freedom.
The CNN Freedom project projects Africa as the centre for the oppression of children. We are dealing with issues of prostitution, human trafficking and child labour. In addition to this list, another serious threat to children and particularly the girl child is early marriage.
The girl child is more vulnerable in our day compared to the girl child of Soweto in 1976. The abuse of these children is a cause for concern because it shows that freedom is still a rare commodity.
It is very important that children as young as those in pre-school need to learn about the origins of this day lest they forget. Forgetting that someone died for their freedom is the worst that today’s generation can ever do to the Soweto victims.
Every country in Africa has its own share of problems but others are much worse. It is worse with countries going through war. Soweto was like a war zone on that fateful day of 16 June, 1976 and we need not see that replicated elsewhere in Africa.
African children need to increase their voice and be heard. Children all over the world are going through their struggles and they make sure that they are heard. In the Scandinavian countries children are making the loudest noise about climate change. They are participating in the future of the planet we will leave behind for them.
In the United States of America, children have stood up against weapons that are killing them. In that country there is a mass shooting almost every other day and children are the worst victims because most of these shootings happen in schools or shopping malls.
Taking you back to Soweto forty-three years later, there is absolutely a different story to tell. The freedom fighters of 1976 are no longer heroes any more. They are steeped in alcohol and drugs. And they are not recognizable any more.
Drugs and alcohol has become the biggest single problem to the African child. A combination of all the other evils of society come nowhere near matching the problem of drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse has become the new slave master. They are far worse than the white man who wanted to dominate the youth of 1976.
Where did we lose it? The Day of the African Child should continue to remind today’s children that their problems have become even more complex. Besides drugs and alcohol, these children have become a generation of the fatherless. There are more athletic fathers than there were in 1976. Mothers who are single parents are overwhelmed with these children and especially the boy child. Boys are demanding to know their fathers and they are nowhere to be found.
And yet there are still those child heroes of our day. The children who survived the era of AIDS. Those who lost their parents and became heads of their households prematurely. These are the heroes we still have to celebrate.
And still there are other heroes out there. It is those children who have chosen to have their lives under the faith. Choosing abstinence until marriage. They are the most unlikely heroes because what they doing is not cool.
Neither smoking nor taking alcohol are cool. Coolness for the children of today is studying and leaving school with a qualification and not a piece of paper called birth certificate. Schools are now running boot camps because they are trying to create heroes. Any parent reading this must pass it to their children because we are looking for heroes.
Richard Moleofe is a security analyst