After Years of Protest, Soweto Students Find Hope in ANC Win


IT is business as usual at the Morris Isaacson High School - nucleus of the rebellion against apartheid by the country's black youths 18 years ago.

Pupils and teachers alike are pleased that the African National Congress (ANC) has emerged the clear victor in the country's first all-race election, and they are hopeful that long-awaited improvements to the devastated education system will begin to materialize soon.

But their expectations have been muted by nearly two decades of broken promises, and they realize that an ANC government led by Nelson Mandela will have to be held to its election promises.

``Mandela has promised a better life for all,'' says Shadrck Mazomba, who voted for the first time in last week's landmark ballot.

``If he does not fulfill those promises, we will riot again. He is a leader because of us, and we will see that he keeps his promises,'' says Mr. Mazomba, a history student who takes his inspiration from a brother who joined the ANC military wing.

Pupils in smart black-and-white school uniforms attend overcrowded classes in buildings that look more like the aftermath of a battle than a place of learning.

The school library and laboratory are in ruins after being burned down during student protests in 1990. Most of the classroom windows are broken, and several of the classrooms are without roofs. The playground is overgrown with weeds. Revolutionary slogans decorate classroom walls.

But the blue paint of war-like graffiti is fading along with the revolutionary spirit of the pupils of 1976, who took to the streets to protest compulsory use of the Afrikaans language as the medium of instruction in high schools.

Soweto's watershed June 16, 1976 protest march was led by Tsietsi Mashinini, a pupil here. The students marched into a hail of police bullets in an act of courage and defiance that focused international attention on apartheid as never before. Their action led to a national uprising in which hundreds of blacks were killed.

The slogan of ``liberation before education'' led to a whole generation of youths sacrificing their opportunity to study under an education system designed to keep the black majority in a position of perpetual inferiority.

Pride in the legacy

``We are very proud of the students of 1976 and the contribution they have made to the political changes in our country,'' says Justin Mosala, who was born in March 1976 - three months before the pupils took to Soweto's streets. ``I feel great that the ANC has won the election, and I am hopeful about the future now.''

Baba Maimane, a teacher at the famous school that is featured in the movie ``Sarafina,'' starring Whoopi Goldberg and Leleti Khumalo, says there had been no improvements in black education in the post-1976 period, and conditions have deteriorated.

``The labels have changed, but it's all very cosmetic,'' he says. ``Materially, things have got worse because the whole system has been deliberately run down and allowed to deteriorate.''

Promises from the discredited Department of Education and Training - successor to the reviled Bantu Education Department - include a $1 million reconstruction of the school.

``We hope that the new government will start looking at education as a major priority,'' Mr. Maimane says. ``But it will probably take five or ten years before we see the results.''

He says the students of 1976 are adults and have been subjected to a political climate over the years where black leaders are preaching reconstruction and development rather than revolution. ``They are giving the new government a chance. They realize that you have to create jobs and eliminate crime before you can normalize the education system.''

Maimane says the reaction of black youths to the new government will depend on the implementation of the ANC's much-publicized Reconstruction and Development Program, a detailed blueprint for socioeconomic development.

In his election victory speech Monday, President-elect Mandela committed his government to implementing the program and said it would enjoy the highest priority of his administration.

Education a priority

``If there are attempts in the Government of National Unity to undermine the program, there will be tensions of the Government of National Unity,'' Maimane warns.

The 1976 generation, the political leaders of today, has not forgotten the roots of their struggle against inferior black education.

``The government knows that it cannot run the country without satisfying the youths,'' Maimane says. ``If [the government] fails to act decisively, [the issue] has the potential to overthrow Mandela.''

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