From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

If Only Adults Can Stop Misleading Children on June 16
By Aruna Turay
Jun 17, 2010, 17:00

June 16th is a day recorded as one of Africa's most sympathetic days. It is a memorable day in which all Africans especially children are to be encouraged to mourn and offer countless prayers for the thousands of black school children who were killed and injured by police personnel during a very peaceful student protest march in Soweto, South Africa in 1976.

The students were protesting the inferior quality of their education and also in demand of their rights to be taught in their own language.

Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down; and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand were injured.

In honor of the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child is been commemorated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity. The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.

In most countries including South Africa, on this day, children are lectured on the mysteries of this day. They are encouraged to fast, pray and mourn the death of their colleague children who lost their precious lives on that awful and unpleasant day. Religious ceremonies, solidarity marches are also held in commemoration of this day.

On the contrary, in Sierra Leone today, children are not encouraged to do the same in commemorating this sad day. Instead, under the influence of adults they have been sensitized with the bad spirit of celebrating this day with lots of funs. In a more simple term, Sierra Leonean children are celebrating the brutal death of their colleague children instead of sympathizing and offer prayers for them. How can one be dancing, drinking and jollying over the brutal and untimely death of another colleague? If one may ask.

On June 16 this year, in Sierra Leone, I, among millions of Sierra Leoneans were mouth filled and amazed to witnessed and heard the call by certain group of elderly Sierra Leoneans inviting the poor children to assemble themselves at the main bowl of the country's national stadium and get themselves rocked with entertainment from all record labels and artists in the country. In responds to this misleading call, on June 16, all roads were heading for the national stadium where children who were suppose to be morning the brutal and painful death of their colleagues on this day, were seen dancing and having fun over the death of other children. What a shame for my country to the rest of Africa and the world as a whole? Sierra Leoneans have we forgetting so soon? What kind of a bed is out elders spreading for our future leaders? Sierra Leoneans, let remember that the way we spread our beds, that's the way we are going to lie on them.

In years gone by, during this day in my country, rich and well-to-do parents dressed their children in expensive African garments and send them to school alongside baskets of well prepared and delicious African dishes. Though this was also a form of victimization over those children whose poor parents can not afford the cost of preparing such for them, but it was however preferred to this all day cheery kind of celebration, because during these days, most schools lecture the real history of the day to their pupils before the jolly starts, which does not happened in the national stadium this year.

As history could have it, it was cold and overcast as pupils gathered at schools across Soweto on 16 June. At an agreed time, they set off for Orlando West Secondary School in Vilakazi Street, with thousands streaming in from all directions for a planned march from the school to the Orlando Stadium. By 10.30am, on that historic day, over 5,000 (five thousand) students had gathered on Vilakazi Street and more were arriving every minute. In total, over 15,000 (fifteen thousand) uniformed students between the ages of 10 and 20 were marching.

Once at the stadium, the plan was to agree on a list of grievances, and then possibly to march to the offices of the Transvaal Department of Education in Booysens, in Johannesburg's Southern Suburbs.

But this didn't happen as the Police formed a wall facing the pupils, warning them to disperse. Met with resistance, teargas canisters were fired into the crowd of unarmed and harmless students and police dogs released on them at the same time. In the chaos, children ran back and forth, throwing stones at the police who fired more teargas on them.

As if that is not enough for the poor children, there came the first gun shot fired straight into the chaotic crowd of pupils, without warning. Other policemen took up the signal and more gun shots were fired at the children. Twelve-year-old Hector Pieterson who was part of the pupils, fell to the ground, fatally wounded. He was picked up by Mbuyisa Makhubo, a fellow student, who ran with him towards the Phefeni Clinic, with Pieterson's crying sister Antoinette running alongside.

Then at this point, all hell broke loose, students targeted apartheid symbols, administrative offices, government buses and vehicles and municipal beer halls, which were first looted and then set alight. By the end of the day thick clouds of black smoke hung over the township and the streets were littered with upturned vehicles, stones, children's dead bodies, clots of blood from children and rocks.

Anti-riot vehicles poured into Soweto, roadblocks were erected at all entrances, the army was placed on alert and helicopters hovered overhead, dropping teargas canisters and shooting life bullets on harmless and helpless children trying to make their voices heard.

The injured pupils were taken to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, some dying in its corridors, and some dying at its gates before they could be admitted.

As night fell, the unlit township became even more terrifying: blinded by the night, police simply fired into the blackness. The students returned the fire with bottles and stones.

Most of the victims were under 23 years of age and were shot in the back. Many others were left maimed or crippled. By the end of the year about 575 people had died across the country, 451 at the hands of police. The injured was numbered 3,907 with the police responsible for 2,389 of them. About 5,980 people were arrested in the townships that year.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.