I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be a Black parent during the Apartheid.
I can’t imagine what I’d tell my kids every morning to make them want to go to school, or every evening to remind them to have hope. I can’t fathom the sheer strength it would take to look into their faces when they ask ‘Why?’ and lie; just so that they don’t have to deal with the brass knuckle truth of being victims of circumstance. Worse still is the blow that truth delivered; that by default they were destined to be lesser people in their own land.
Clearly parents tried to keep the peace and keep their children protected, but I suspect they didn’t lie to their kids. I suspect they told their children the truth, and told them that a change was coming. So they yearned that change. As Bobby Seale once said “You cannot silence injustice with anything but revolution.”
That fateful morning, 45 years ago, the spirit of revolt was with the youth. 20,000 school kids – mere foundlings and soon to be young adults – said enough was enough and walked out of school. A new act had just been passed that forced them to be taught in Afrikaans. They demonstrated peacefully for their right to be taught in their own language or English. When police came to disperse the rightfully disgruntled Africans, they immediately resorted to opening fire.
A 15 year old Hastings Ndlovu was the first to die. Shortly thereafter, a 12 year old Hector Pieterson got shot and fell to the ground.
He was quickly picked up by some older kids and accompanied by his sister to a clinic where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Depending on who you ask, there were between 200 and 600 deaths to follow. I always assume the worst seeing as the media was governed by people who wanted to make this come off as a bunch of unruly youths rioting and looting.
To remember that day, the 16th of June has been marked as the Day of the African Child. Young revolutionaries that stood for what they believed in and gave their lives to it. I salute them from beyond the grave.
As I salute them, I wonder about our own country. I wonder when we’ll have our uprise against all the injustice and hardships we have to endure. Recently while chatting with a wise friend, we discussed ‘The Revolution Kenya Will Never Know‘ and she said something that sent a chill down my spine. She said that she fears that this country will not see a revolution in our lifetime, nor in our children’s. Our grandchildren may be the ones to sacrifice and great-grandchildren to benefit. She is right. This is not something that happens overnight; it’s a culture that has to be instilled in you.
The kids in Soweto were fueled by their parents and sparked by circumstance. What about us? I was blessed enough to have a revolutionary activist as a parent, but how many Kenyans do? I venture to say there are more children of filthy rich politicians and tycoons than there are of activists. Put it this way, how many Kenyan activists survived long enough to raise children?
We’re still cowering in the shadow of the torture chambers at Nyayo House and the bodies that still litter our forests and rivers. We’ve been cultured into thinking that “Opening your mouth will get a gun shoved in it after your tongue is cut out to create space. Besides you know what: we’re not living so badly”. Right?
As comfortable as we may be now, it’s important to remember that your inaction now will affect the actions of your child or grandchild. Ndlovu Hastings, Hector Pieterson, the hundreds shot and beaten in cold blood, the others tortured and raped in bile and rage – this is the future that we pass on to our children because one day, kids in Kibera, Huruma, or somewhere in this country will get tired of having to share desks and stationery. They’ll get tired of being immediately disqualified from free schooling by virtue of their upbringings or parent’s actions. They’ll get tired of police constantly harassing them and politicians ceaselessly leveraging them for donor funds. They’ll say no and put their foot down and a gun shall be drawn.
And the child in its sights might be yours lest we begin to make gradual changes towards making this life better for them. Little sacrifices to ensure their revolution – which will still happen – is not as dramatic and bloodshed. Speak out where you can and stand up when you should. It might just save future generations from lifetimes of oppression.