Socialist Worker

We need to complete what they began with the Soweto uprising

by Trevor Ngwane
Issue No. 2005

The Soweto rebellion was a magnificent moment of revolt against apartheid and the way the system crushed people’s lives.

In particular it was the revolt of the youth, a sign of how young people can confront oppression and exploitation in the most courageous way.

They faced down ruthless repression and gave hope to tens of millions of the oppressed. The issue in 1976 was a social and economic system which condemned the majority to a life of poverty and pain.

Formal discrimination based on race has gone, but the issues of 1976 remain.

Capitalism condemns people to poverty and pain. There is still a lack of resources and educational opportunities for workers, and especially young workers.

Today we find that the top leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), and the Communist Party are all in the government or in the private sector running some big corporations.

Now some of them are owned by black people for the first time, but the bottom line is that the ruling class has not been shaken.

Rather, it has been reinforced by elements from our own ranks.

The continuing relevance of the issues of 1976 is evidenced by the wave of struggles that have swept South Africa’s townships

Questions of the supply of basic services, privatisation, cut-offs for non-payment, proper housing and secure, decently paid jobs are still in the minds of the people – and they are fighting for them.

There is also a new ferment of ideas. The South African Communist Party is involved in a very deep and serious internal debate about its relations with the ANC.

This shows the pressure from below. It is an exciting time because new layers of young people and trade union shop stewards are emerging.

Soweto in 1976 forced the issue of apartheid on to the international stage. Before that it was often hidden.

Now we are a more global movement, all aware of the importance of the war in Iraq, the battle against neo-liberalism and capitalism.

The young men and women of Soweto in 1976 are part of our shared tradition and we should strive to complete what they began.

Trevor Ngwane was elected ANC councillor for Pimville in Soweto in 1995. He was expelled from the ANC in 1999 when he publicly disagreed with a plan to privatise municipal services. He helped found the Anti-Privatisation Forum and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee. He will be speaking at Marxism 2006 on South Africa’s township revolts, and at the closing rally.

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