Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Some Thoughts Regarding Soweto

Reading about the Soweto uprisings has brought three main thoughts to my mind.


1.  Youth Empowerment

In Canada, we don’t give young people enough credit or responsibilities. 

I love reading literature about the Vietnam War era; it was a time when American high school and university students stood up against their government and made their voices heard.  Go hippies!  Since then, I think governments and institutions have learned not to discount grievances from the 18-24 aged group just because they’re young.

The Soweto uprisings, however, show that youth even younger than 18 can have a major impact on governance and society.

My sister is 10 years old.  She’s still innocent of a lot of things (a couple months ago she asked me to explain what “politics” means) but she’s smart.  She can tell when someone is patronizing her, as her school principle does all the time.

Furthermore, her youth is not a reason to discount her opinion.

I remember spending a lot of my childhood pretending to be dumber than I was because that’s how I was expected to act.  If you let me get away with claiming ignorance, I will.  Even as a kid, I thought some of the adults around me were foolish to disregard me so thoroughly.

We’re missing out on a valuable resource when we don’t take children seriously.

(That being said, I hate it when people use children to justify their opinions.  For instant, a couple years ago there was a motion to cut down some trees at my old elementary school to expand the soccer field.  The local newspaper published a letter written by a kid than condemned cutting down any trees because we need them to clean the air so we can survive, destroying nature is evil, etc etc etc.  Issues are complicated.  Teaching kids a simplified version doesn’t empower them.)


2.  Justifying Violence

Usually, I consider myself a pacifist; I don’t think violence is justified except in self-defense.  But how far does the definition of self-defense stretch?  Does it including fighting against a state that denies your basic rights?  What if the state gives weapons to different factions in your community to promote black-on-black violence?  Or if government officials are torturing your family members for expressing opinions that don’t coincide with theirs?

Did the violence committed during the Soweto uprisings help bring about the end of apartheid?  What about the violence perpetrated by the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s militant branch?

It’s easy for me to sit on my high horse and condemn violence.  I admit, however, that I would kill anyone who hurt my sister.  What if the state was hurting her?  How would I fight against a government that refused to listen to me?


3.  Reconciliation

How do you forgive people who opened fire on unarmed school children?


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One thought on “Some Thoughts Regarding Soweto

  1. Great post Beth, it’s an excellent mix of thoughts and conclusions you’ve made, along with questions you’re still struggling with.

    You’ve articulated my own opinion of youth very well here, in a way I haven’t been able to before. “Youth is not a reason to discount.. opinion” but don’t “use children to justify [an] opinion”. We’ve got to be open to listening and understanding everyone, while also critically engaging. There’s no magic age where suddenly your thoughts count.

    I like that you’re tackling questions around violence and pacifism. I have the bad habit of avoiding thinking about it because I like to think of myself as pacifist too. So difficult to know how a real situation would affect you, and so hard to admit that it might not mesh with your ideal values.

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