Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|June 16, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

“Don’t die like a sheep, you must kick like a horse!”

It was a picture taken on a sunny winter’s morning exactly 45 years ago today. It is full of life, innocence, hope and youthful optimism. You can almost hear the schoolgirls giggling as they embrace their friends outside Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto on June 16 1976.

Every time I look at this picture, my blood runs cold. The story behind it is as chilling as the smiles in the picture are warm.

This is no joyful end-of-term snap. The young women in this picture feared they would die that day. In hours after the camera clicked, these children would be shot at, beaten, bitten and terrorised by South African apartheid-era police who fought unarmed schoolkids like they were an army.

The lady, a good friend of mine, who lent me this picture is seen squatting down to the right. Mary Fisher, who survived to forge a distinguished career as a nurse, recounted to me that morning 45 years ago.

“Every year the memory comes back, it seems like yesterday,” she said gesturing to the above picture.

“We thought we didn’t know whether this was the last day we see one another. So, we decided let’s take a memory picture so that if we lose one another, then we can at least have memory just in case we don’t come back.”

The girls were excited to be standing up for their rights to be taught in English – the language of opportunity. The government-of-the-day believed young, black, schoolchildren should be schooled in Afrikaans as a language of instruction. The children used to call it a “horse language” more fit for the directing of an animal, than an aspiring child.

Hours after Fisher and her friends took up their little cardboard placards to march through the streets in what they thought would be a peaceful day of protest.

They sang songs and chanted: ”Amandla” calling for power to the people. Within hours at least 176 of them were dead – many of them shot in the back.

An old colleague of mine – the late photographer Alf Kumalo – was there with his camera. He told me more than 30 years later that the image of police throwing the bodies of schoolchildren in a pile lived with him for the rest of his life. It is a shameful sight that Africa should never have seen.

Forty-five years on what has changed? George Floyd died in the run up to last year’s commemoration; Black Lives Matter is a bigger issue than ever.

So how can the youth of Africa pay tribute to the fallen of 1976? I think the only way the youth can is to live with verve and passion in their name.

The African Continental Free Trade wants to open up trade on the continent with emphasis on women and youth. The way for the youth to fight back is to take control of their own destiny; find the capital and couple it with hard work. That is the way to fight back and pay tribute to the tears and blood of the brave Young Turks of 1976 – taking real economic power for the future with fire and skill.

A motto for this new struggle came from the streets of Soweto in 1976, via the lips of Fisher, who translated it from her mother tongue.

“Don’t die like a sheep, you must kick like a horse!”

Mary Fisher in 1976