South Africa’s liberation struggle reveals an important fact: the vital role the youth played in fighting against apartheid. There are many other struggles in the world that resemble such youth activism. Young people took it upon themselves to fight for freedom and stand up against an overbearing system that sought to suppress their identity, usurp their land, and barricade them in the confines of Bantustan in an attempt to stifle their struggle for political and economic emancipation.
The 1976 uprisings in Soweto witnessed thousands of youth as young as 12 years old fighting military police with nothing but their pride in black consciousness, stones, and petrol bombs. They were fighting against a vicious system that denied their humanity; they were treated as non-beings. The rise of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the formation of South African Students Organization (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-apartheid sentiment within the student community.
On June 16, 1976, between 3,000 and 10,000 students mobilized by the South African Students Movement’s Action Committee supported by the BCM marched peacefully to protest against the government’s changed language policy on Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. The uprising took place at a time when liberation movements were banned throughout the country and South Africa was in the grip of apartheid. The Soweto protest started peacefully but it turned violent when the police opened fire on unarmed students. By the third day, the unrest had gained momentum and spread to townships around Soweto and other parts of the country.
The class of 1976 bravely took to the streets and overturned the simplistic notion that workers were the only essential force to challenge the apartheid regime, but that a formidable unity was capable of shaking the foundations of the power structure.
The official death toll was put at 23 but the real figure was higher than 200 because the incident triggered widespread violence throughout South Africa, which claimed more lives. The first student to be shot that fateful day was 15-year old Hastings Ndlovu. However, the killing in the same incident of 12-year-old Hector Pieterson gained the movement worldwide attention and evoked widespread condemnation of apartheid.
Let us focus on another locale where people face an equally ruthless system of apartheid, this time operating under the label of Zionism. Almost nine months have passed since the start of a massive wave of protests known as the “Great March of Return,” organized by the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, protests that are very similar to those of the 1976 uprising in Soweto. The protests commenced on March 30, in commemoration of Land Day, which marks the events of 30 March 1976 (a few months before the Soweto Uprising in South Africa), when Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinians living in Israel as they protested against the Israeli regime’s expropriation of their land.
The scenes of the current conflict between the Palestinians and Zionist Israel are reminiscent of the 1976 Uprisings where we see insurgent youth in Gaza taking to the streets in a desperate attempt to regain their humanity and protect their land. Young people were among those leading the protests, demonstrating their frustration against the continued stifling of their hopes and dreams in their occupied land.
The Great March of Return protests made a rallying call for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a right enshrined in international law, to their homelands and end to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt for over a decade. This blockade has caused suffering to the Palestinians living in Gaza as well as other parts of Palestine.
The living conditions of Palestinians are truly appalling and inhumane. The UN has reported that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020. The lives of Palestinians do not matter to Israelis and they are treated as a cheap trade-off by Israel for their continued apartheid rule. According to al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, 194 Palestinians have been killed and more than 18,000 people wounded in the Gaza Strip since the commencement of protests on March 30.
The protests escalated further when Israel demonstrated its utter disregard for the Palestinian people. Abandoning even the fiction of the peace process, Zionist Israel together with the US, decided to name Jerusalem as its capital. To mark this decision, Donald Trump announced relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
This sparked outrage among the Palestinians ahead of the annual commemoration of Nakbah Day. This marks the day when Zionist terrorist gangs drove Palestinians out of their homes, villages and land as the Zionist entity was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War. The establishment of Israel in 1948 came about following a scandalous vote in the United Nations General Assembly in November 1947 when the Palestinians were not even consulted. Such was the arrogance of the colonial powers. When the Palestinians rejected such brazen theft of their land under the figleaf of the UN assembly vote, the Zionist marauders grabbed more land.
This coincided with the institutionalization of apartheid as a system of domination in the same year. The lives of native Palestinians and native Africans began to change for the worse in the years that followed, with Palestinians still experiencing the catastrophe of segregation. While there is much talk against discrimination globally, the Palestinians continue to suffer Zionist racism, brutality, and dehumanization in full view of the entire world.
Israel has continued its apartheid policy toward the Palestinian people. Zionist Israel continues to treat Palestinians like non-humans, caging them like animals, restricting and surveilling their movement in the land of their birth. Through mass demonstrations, the Palestinians are displaying their abhorrence and rejection of a system that seeks to obliterate their identity, heritage, and indeed their very existence as human beings. Much like the Soweto Uprising, Palestinians have used these demonstrations as a way of regaining their agency as citizens and inheritors of the Holy Land.
Palestinian resistance is indicative of the continued struggle against colonialism in the world and there are many historical struggles that resemble the fighting spirit of Palestinians from which all oppressed people draw inspiration. The apartheid regime in Israel, like the one before it in South Africa, must be dismantled. This can occur through a collective effort globally through such actions as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as well as exposing the ugly face of Zionist colonialism. This colonial monstrosity must be dismantled so that all the inhabitants of Palestine — Muslims, Christians and Jews — can live as equal citizens under the law. The people of Palestine can and must be free.
Welcome to “modern India” with Delhi becoming the rape capital of the world and the country earning the reputation with the most HIV/AIDS cases in the world.
Nwabisa Sigaba is with the Media Review Network in Johannesburg.