Soweto’s children can teach Kenyan grown-ups about courage

Sunday March 19 2017

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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While in Johannesburg attending Africa’s biggest bridal fair, The Wedding Expo, I and the group of ladies I was with took a detour.

We went down to the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto.

It's a few minutes down the road from one of the most famous streets in the world, Vilakazi Street, where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both lived at some point in their lives.

The memorial was beautiful. There was a huge blown-up framing of the picture that started to tip apartheid, that of a shot Hector being carried by another student, Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his distressed sister, Antoinette Sithole, running by their side in the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

Hector was one of the first people to be shot during the uprising, and that picture by Sam Nzima caused waves in a world that had up until then not been outraged enough about apartheid – literally, a system of keeping people apart, as our tour guide from Soweto Tours told us.

The memorial carries much symbolism; the pool around the picture symbolising the tears of the parents who lost their children; the sculptured wall of slate with empty spaces running between large swathes of it representing the unity of the students who stood up for what they believed in and the students to whom no one knows what happened , and even the line of olive trees in the memorial commissioned by Mandela himself, running down to the approximate spot Hector was shot.

It’s a stark reminder to never forget what happens after oppression is allowed to run rampant. On that morning of 1976, students were simply protesting the teaching of Afrikaans in their schools. They had done nothing wrong and the songs they were singing and the placards they were holding said as much.

APATHETIC KENYANS

It’s also a stark reminder of a civic duty. Not to be killed, but to stand up for what is right. You see, these students, the thousands who showed up, knew what they were doing was a worthy cause. They knew what they were fighting for.

They didn’t want to die – but they felt that they had to march. That march sparked the world. That protest changed South Africa forever. It started a revolution.

Unfortunately, back home, marching for and believing in something is difficult for many an apathetic Kenyan, whether children are dying or not.

The reasons for this apathy are varied, from poverty to a lack of belief in the system, to whenever you watch parliamentary proceedings and see the MPs give themselves more money. But the fact remains that it is almost as if we don’t care for our country anymore.

We aren’t willing to fight for it through the hopefully less violent methods we have: through our votes, online, through public participation, and of course, through protests.

But there is always hope, isn’t there? One of the only groups who could bring the government to a standstill is finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, we hope. Kenyan doctors called off the strike after the CBA was signed. The countdown began again last Tuesday – 60 days till implementation, according to the signed agreement.

BETTER EQUIPMENT

I watched this particular form of revolution in awe. Everyone was talking about it and fighting about it. People vilified doctors for letting people die, not understanding that doctors watch people die every day, helpless, because they do not have what is needed to save them.

Some called these stories sensational; I saw it as plain truth. You can’t work without tools, and so doctors and comrades took to the streets demanding what they deserve – better equipment, better conditions, and better money – because they believed in it.

They were asking for themselves, and for Kenyans – raging against a system that continually expects them to perform and save lives on fumes, chalking it up to a passion and a calling, all the while forgetting that passion pays peanuts.

I think the doctors should ask for money. I think everyone should ask for more money, except those who already have too much and do far too little.

I think we should hold both these parties accountable –the doctors, upon implementation of the CBA for everything else they said they are fighting for, and the government to stick to their side of the bargain. And not just this bargain! All the bargains they sold to us when our votes were still desirable!

I just don’t want us to get to a point where children have to be shot to bring about change. The best time to speak out and be counted, to be Kenyan and demand your rights as such, was yesterday. The next best time to do it is now.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga