South Africa: Youth’s Voice and Apartheid Declination

biko_091311During the “silent decade” of the 1970s, the years of suppressed organizationally lead political mobilization, youth and student activist flourished on the scene to confront apartheid. Young college activist were subtly and overtly challenging systemic injustices in various methods.  South African Student Organization (SASO) formed in 1968 to introduce a growing widespread ideological shift of Black Conscious that encapsulated self-reliance, black pride, and psychological liberation from colonial white-supremacy.  One of the most prominent voices to rise from this ethnically based union is Steve Biko, a young articulate Xhosa who embraced Black identity and social justice against apartheid.  Organizers from SOSA were entrenched in politicizing their colleagues on and off campus to challenge the political system and in 1972 founded the Black Peoples Convention.  SASO was uniquely different than other political student unions whereas they advocated for Black exclusive membership in order to raise the pressing concerns which that other white lead or multi-ethnic students bodies were avoiding.  Along with the several boycotts, protests, and collaborative efforts in campus conscious politicization, SOSA became the prime target of national authorities.  Through illegal detaining, imprisonment, and assassinations, government authorities methodically dissolved the student effort; however, not without influencing youth in other sectors.

The Soweto uprising acted as the last and final rallying cry from organized youth across the union to resist the apartheid regime.  In the school year of 1976, the Bantu Department of Education implemented a new policy declaring the Afrikaan language as a medium for school instruction.  Student sentiment argued that it was a direct assault to their cultural and ethnicity while stating that it was the language of their oppressor.  Boycotts were successfully staged during mid-year exams in Soweto schools which spurred youth in the South African Students Movement (SASM), a collection of students from several high school committees, to organize a mass protest against the policy.  This effort became a city-wide march consisting of high school and middle school students on July 16 1976, an estimated 10,000 youth.  On the way to the Orlando Soccer stadium protestors were first met with tear gas by state authority in attempt to disrupt the crowd. Landscape-of-PietersonMoments later policemen opened fire killing two victims; Hasting Ndlovu and Hector Peteirson.  Within 24 hours close to 200 hundred youth sustain life changing injuries from police assaults.  Images of their killings made international headlines and helped to spur sympathetic youth activism in close to 100 other urban and rural South African cities. In Cape Town, Black high school students allied with their “Coloured” classmates to express solidarity with Soweto organizers and victims.  College universities went up in protest as students boycotted their classes to form a connection with Soweto cause. Inter-generational efforts became the fruit of this experience as students united with adults and existing political groups to lead a more inclusive campaign against the Bantu Department of Education. Youth activism in the 1970s, I argue, was the silver bullet that brought apartheid to spiraling decline.

Black youth under the apartheid regime were the most suppressed voice within the system.  However, non-violent student protest clashed with the violent state authority and set in motion major events that easily became the international image of the South African government.  These images, policies, and racial-relationships impacted the international affairs of the government.  By the end of the 1970s, the apartheid repressive system created a deficit and became increasingly difficult to economically maintain.  African leadership may have led the first major blow for several decades, but it would be the youth and student mobilization that cast the final knockout punch to bring apartheid to its knees.

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