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SA history’s turning point



The uprising that began in Soweto on 16 June 1976 was a turning point in South African history. It sparked off the most sustained period of resistance to the iniquitous apartheid system since the early 1960s, and while it was ultimately suppressed, the flame of defiance it kindled in the hearts of a generation of black youth was never extinguished. Instead, it continued to smoulder before bursting anew into flame the following decade, precipitating the events that culminated in the transition to democracy in April 1994. In recognition of the courage shown by the youth of Soweto and the sacrifices made by so many of them to bring freedom to their country, 16 June was subsequently designated Youth Day.

In the post-apartheid era, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has striven to lead our community in identifying with and involving itself in the greater national heritage. By doing so, we strengthen our connection to the society of which we are part, build bridges with our fellow South Africans, and create new avenues through which we can contribute. Public holidays provide ideal opportunities for this kind of identification, and over the years, the Board has headed up many initiatives in this area including organising leadership delegations to attend commemorative events in Sharpeville on Human Rights Day and in Soweto on Youth Day.

To commemorate Youth Day last week, we again took a delegation of students from King David Linksfield and Yeshiva College to the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto. Hector Pieterson was one of the first to be killed in the 1976 uprising, and has since come to symbolise the more than 700 South Africans who ultimately lost their lives. It was a deeply moving experience. We joined our fellow citizens, together with Gauteng Premier David Makhura, Executive Mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse, MEC Mbali Hlophe, and other provincial and local government leaders in remembering those horrific events. We were also privileged to hear first-hand the memories of the families of some of the victims. They included Janet Goldblatt, whose father, Dr Melville Edelstein, also died on that day. This, in turn, brought back memories of our participation in the 2016 Youth Day event, when a memorial to Dr Edelstein was unveiled and his grandson, Levy Rosenthal, celebrated his Barmitzvah by reading from the Torah at a shacharit service held near where Dr Edelstein was fatally injured.

Originating in Soweto, the 1976 uprising rapidly spread to townships throughout South Africa. One was Alexandra, where on 18 June, at least 22 protestors were killed. On Sunday, 19 June, ChaiFM 101.9 and Alex FM Studios partnered in a three-hour broadcast commemorating the Alexandra massacre, during which numerous witnesses to the events of that day shared their stories. The SAJBD initiated this historic collaboration and was involved in its organisation as well as engaging closely with the office of the MEC for sports, arts, recreation, and culture. It demonstrated how different communities can be brought together by a shared commitment to commemorating, sharing, and learning from their common heritage. That International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor chose to use this significant national day of remembrance as an opportunity to further peddle her obsessive anti-Israel agenda is, to say the least, regrettable.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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