It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed since the historic Soweto student uprising that marked a watershed in the liberation struggle in South Africa, sparked by defenseless and courageous youth of whom over 1,000 were mercilessly gunned down by trigger-happy apartheid police. The martyrs of Soweto should never be forgotten by anybody who values humanity, especially the young ones of this world. Little children giving vent to the pent-up frustration against Bantu education and apartheid violence and sacrificing their all. It is these lives of our children who were sacrificed at the altar of apartheid repression and capitalist greed whom we always need to honor in our daily lives even in this “post-apartheid” society, just as the mining victims of the Marikana massacre in 2012 were sacrificed so that South Africa’s stock exchange and mineral wealth that enriches the wealthy elite and supports all South Africans could boom. How disturbing it is to realize that South Africa, the beacon of “industrial development” in Africa, still has hundreds of thousands of street children living in squalor, depression, hopelessness, and alienation on the streets of the country’s commercial cities! How ironic it is that Miyere Miyandazi, an Indigenous Maasai activist from Kenya, who walked from his home to South Africa to protest the dispossession of Maasai people of traditional ancestral lands of East Africa, now works with homeless street children in iThekwini! Homeless in Motherland Africa!
We all recall during these times of commemoration the beautiful chorus sung by our youth—Zenzene na, Zenzene na—what have we done?—from the early days of liberation protest and resistance against apartheid. Today, those words should haunt us all wherever we are. The children of impoverishment and marginalization have educated us and expressed their spiritual conscience for so many decades over the past century and into the present. We now need to broaden the meaning of Zenzene Zenzene na….to discuss what has happened to us as human beings, Black and White, when we realize what we have collectively done much to cause harm to the life and lives of the children of…Mother Earth, Izingqungulu Zomhlaba, from whom we all spring and to whom we all belong.
In honoring the youth of Soweto and the martyrs of the South African liberation struggle, we need to stop and hear the voice of Mother Earth, especially in this era of globalized existence. Southern Africa particularly, the rest of Africa, most of Asia and the Americas and the Pacific, are now plagued by protracted drought and prolonged warming that we have never ever experienced or witnessed in human history. South Africa is entrenched in a condition of deep drought and food production has been hit very badly, with the country being forced to import over 770,000 tonnes of maize at a cost of R2.2 billion. Thousands of cattle are dying all over the country due to lack of water as a result of failing rains and dry rivers. Food prices are rising astronomically and most tragically, South Africa’s vast working class and underclass and close to impoverished Black majority, is finding life virtually impossible to cope with given the inflationary prices of staples like maize meal and bread and the disproportionately high amount of income that’s spent on food each month. For most people, it’s eking out a day-to-day existence, with women vendors selling vegetables on the side of the road or at the local market to help buy food for subsistence and pay for school uniforms for children and other household bills that continue to cripple the average family in every area.
What does the worst drought and dry spell in Southern Africa’s history have to do with the economy and industrial progress? Everything. My mentor and traditional Dineh (Navajo) healer in Arizona, Hataali Jones Benally, explains that the drought that we are suffering in the southwestern part of the United States as in Southern Africa, is because of the pervasiveness of mining that has disturbed the spirits of the Earth. The Earth is not happy about the poisoning of her water, the annihilation of vegetation, bugs, and all of the countless life forms found within the Earth. Mining comes, and the water leaves, with wells, rivers, streams, and freshwater lakes running dry. We as humans are totally helpless against the drying of the Earth and are at her mercy. So long as mining, drilling, and fracking continue to pulverize Mother Earth, there will be tremendous suffering and social and economic destabilization because the weather patterns will disrupt the capitalist-greed-based and violent-oriented ways of living. While mining may bring in billions or trillions of dollars, the essence of life with natural unpoisoned water will disappear.
This is the reason that capitalist South Africa and the rest of the globalized world need to face up to the unassailable truth: Mother Earth is Supreme and She is the one who determines the basis of our existence. We need Mother Earth and other forms of life like the bees, trees, and water to live; Mother Earth and the other forms of life don’t need us to survive. We are all the children of Mother Earth, and this is the lesson that the ancient ancestors of Africa and of the world understood and practiced for untold generations.
As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Soweto insurrection, it behooves us to summon our traditional elders of this beautiful land of Africa, to listen to their Indigenous spiritual wisdom, and have them perform their traditional ceremonies that can heal this troubled and parched land and the rest of Africa. The capitalist system that has made accumulation of money sacred while belittling and destroying the precious life on Earth really has no future. It is doomed to extinction. Perhaps the youth of Soweto understood this too because they were willing to sacrifice their lives for a more humane and livable future. The Earth is sacred just like all life is, including those heroes and heroines who paid the ultimate price and are now ancestral spirit. It’s a wake up call for all in South Africa and the world.…See the light of Mother Africa showing us the way….The Spirit of Soweto has never died! It lives on striving for a decolonized and re-spiritualized Africa….Zenzene na, Zenzene na….
Julian Kunnie is a professor and researcher and the author most recently of The Cost of Globalization: Dangers to the Earth and Its People (McFarland, 2015)