Posted by: Dr. Y. | June 18, 2013

Soweto 1976 and Marikana 2012: any similarities?

Marikana, 16 August 2012

Marikana, 16 August 2012

With the cleansing ceremony for the Marikana massacre taking place today, I couldn’t help but think about similarities, if any, between the Soweto uprisings of 1976, and the Marikana miners’ strike of 2012.

First of all, the Soweto uprising on June 16, 1976, was a movement of school children protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium in school and the fact that this was essentially limiting their career opportunities leading them to mostly menial jobs later in life; besides Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor, and in itself a symbol of oppression.  The school children were reprimanded in blood by police from the apartheid government of John Vorster.  It was a brutal repression.  The pictures, particularly, that of Hector Pieterson‘s dead body being carried away by another student alongside his sister, were just heart-wrenching.

Soweto uprising 16 June 1976

Soweto uprising 16 June 1976

Over 30 years later, Marikana happened, albeit not on the same giant scale.  Miners protesting for wages were repressed in blood by the police on 16 August 2012; this time under the free government of the rainbow nation led by Jacob Zuma.  The violence used by the police was just as shocking, and has been compared by the media to the Sharpeville massacre.

Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)

Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)

The similarities are important: both events showed police brutality against unarmed school children (Soweto 1976), and unarmed miners (Marikana 2012); Note: there are some claims that one miner shot first at the police before the police opened fire at Marikana, and images show that some of the miners had machetes.  Both events showed poor judgment (more like lack of judgment) from government, and police repressive use of force.  Both events harbored bloodshed.  What Marikana 2012 showed us is that police brutality is the same decades later.  I always wondered why didn’t the police use fake bullets in both cases If the police was trying to restore order in both cases, why not use common sense and use rubber bullets instead?  They have the upper hand and the bullet proof vests (and the dogs), they should act like the adults in the play. 

Miners demonstrating at Marikana

Miners demonstrating at Marikana

The main difference, is that unlike Marikana, where the police was dealing with adults, the police in Soweto dealt with school children. Where is this world going when we now attack, hurt, and kill children? Has the human race descended so low?  And the apartheid government had a clear agenda against color and race, while the current government’s agenda seems to be driven by capitalism.  The children of Soweto were demonstrating for a better education, while the miners of Marikana were workers demonstrating for increased wages…

In the end, Soweto 1976 cannot be compared to Marikana 2012, where the government did not even conduct an investigation, and did not present apologies (or did they?) as they did not consider the lives of these Black children relevant in the apartheid society.  And even today, one can see the difference between both events in the length at which Marikana was covered in the South African press, and the small number of archives (accessible?) on Soweto 1976.  Besides, Soweto 1976 marked a turning point in the end of the apartheid regime.  One thing is for sure, both events should never happen in the history of a nation.

This is my two-cents on this… What do you think were the similarities between Marikana 2012 and Soweto 1976? Were there similarities in your opinion? As people protest around the world, how do you stop police brutality?  How do we ensure that lives are preserved, while populations’ protests are taken into account?

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