African National Congress veteran Nompumelelo Sidina lambasted students and residents who burn schools during protests, describing them as ill-disciplined and naïve.
Ms Sidina, 64, was speaking at a dialogue session between students, ANC veterans and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan, held at Tafelsig high school on Wednesday June 22 to mark Youth Month.
Referring to the student uprising against the implementation of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at schools, in 1976, she said: “No school was burned in the 1976 uprising because the students knew what they were fighting for. The youth of 1976 are angry because this is not what they fought for.
“Before you (burn schools) think about those who are in Grade R who are going to need them because tomorrow there will be no schools. Look what happened in Vuwani,” she said, referring to the area in Limpopo where 21 schools were burned down during protests about demarcation boundaries.
“The community burned schools and today they have no schools. Instead of going forward they are going backward because they have to rebuild them,” she said.
Ms Sidina, from Gugulethu, said government must renovate township schools. “ We can’t have schools like Fezeka and Langa high schools who are struggling to produce great athletes because there are no facilities. Why we must take our children to affluent schools to (access) good resources? We want better schools where we live,” she said and urged students to think about those students who died in 1976 fighting for better education.
Claude Blignaut, 48, who lives in Kuils River, was 18 at the time of Soweto student uprising.
“I remember vividly the Soweto uprising which turned our lives upside down. I was in East London that time. We saw it on the news on television and the same day we met as students and had discussions about it. The following day we also protested because we had to respond to what was happening in Soweto.
“We were encouraged by the spirit of students in Soweto and we had to do it,” he said.
Mr Blignaut said in 1985 there was another major uprising against apartheid policies.
“At that time I was already working as a teacher. As teachers we used to guide children and tell them what they must do.
“I used to hide some students in my house because police were looking for them. We even told students not to come to school because police are looking for them,” he said.
Tafelsig High School principal Rushda O’Shea said the event gave everyone present an opportunity to learn more about the past.
“And today we had our heroes and heroines sharing their stories and experience of the apartheid regime. This is information that was omitted from textbooks that we are reading in our classes,” said Ms O’Shea.
“Tafelsig was established in 1984 and students from this school participated in the 1985 and 1986 uprisings in the province. Some of them were affiliated to Muslim Students’ Association and Black Students’ Association,” she said.
She also thanked the Department of Home Affairs for arranging for the veterans to interact with the students.
“Thanks for bringing our heroes and heroines of the past to meet our future leaders,” said Ms O’Shea.
“I also thank the deputy minister for changing the face of the department and the perception people have about it. Recently I was in their offices in Mitchell’s Plain to apply for my identity card. The staff members were so friendly and I received my card within two weeks, which is a great thing when you compare (what happened) in the past,” she said.
Addressing the pupils, Ms Chohan said: “You need to think beyond yourself. And you need role models to guide and speak to you. But there are role models who never have a chance to speak to you and that is why we decided to bring veterans of 1976 to speak to you.”
She also encouraged the pupils to dream big. “Dreams are very important and you have to strive (to realise them).
“Even dreams are limited. You must have tenacity and work hard.
“During apartheid our dreams were confined. We couldn’t dream of living in Constantia and it was an embarrassment to come from a poor home,” she said.
Sharing her experience of hardship, Ms Chohan said she hadn’t been able to afford university fees, but with the assistance of people around her, they raised enough to cover her registration fee.
“I couldn’t afford clothes to wear to university. We were living in a different world. A good Samaritan gave me money and bought me clothes to wear. I wore those clothes for three years until I finished my (course),” she said.
She said poverty builds a character that makes people stronger. “It makes you good at finding ways to solve problems. It teaches you values and self respect.
“Value is like a compass, if you don’t have a compass, you don’t have a direction and you dont know where you going to,” she said, adding that the country needs people who have values and are good citizens. “People must stand up and say no more destruction because it doesn’t bring anything.
“And that is what the home affairs department is striving for. It is not about issuing identity documents only. It is about making the country prosperous and successful,” she said.
Amy Thornton, 84, a former Plainsman advice columnist, said she doesn’t regret being part of the struggle even though she had been arrested several times by apartheid police.
Farida Omar, 78, the wife of the late ANC stalwart and minister Dullah Omar, said she had no formal education and had worked at a fruit and vegetable market. “My husband was arrested several times and there were times police came in raiding our house looking for him. That was traumatising and I also got arrested on numerous accounts,” she recalled.
Grade 12 pupil Leslie Japhta, 18, said he had gained much from the event. “The event taught us a lot about our history. It also encouraged us not to forget about our past and gave us the opportunity to see our struggle heroes and heroines whom we hadn’t known about,” he said.
Amiena Hendricks, 17, described the event as inspiring and motivating.