Exhibition News: The National Museum is commemorating Youth Day with a temporary exhibition which focuses on the school boycotts in Mangaung during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Youth Day, which is annually commemorated on June 16, was declared a national public holiday day to remind South Africans of the Soweto uprisings of June 1976 and the sacrifices that were made by Soweto’s students who bravely resisted an inferior education system. Although Youth Day’s focus is mostly on what had happened in Soweto, it is important to remember that the uprisings spread nationwide and also to schools and training institutions in the Free State and Mangaung. The Museum’s History Department has prepared a new temporary exhibition – In Solidarity with the Class of ’76: The Mangaung School Boycotts of the Late 1970s and Early 1980s – to focus on the school boycotts in Mangaung during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
What happened in Mangaung?
During the late 1970s and early 1980s members of an older generation of struggle veterans, such as Winnie Mandela, Caleb Motshabi and Martha Mohlakoana succeeded in bringing a younger generation of Free State activists into contact with the banned ANC and its underground networks. These activists – many of them students – played a crucial role in establishing activist networks and youth organisations in the province. During the late seventies and early eighties the political thinking, strategies and objectives of these young activists who operated in the Free State were strongly influenced by the Soweto uprisings of 1976. Soweto’s students fought against the inferior ‘Bantu Education’ system, the poor quality of education, and the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in black secondary schools for certain subjects. The Free State activists were also inspired by, among others, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the writings of Steve Biko, and popular slogans such as ‘Liberation before education!’ and ‘Equal education for all!’
In addition to background information on the Mangaung school boycotts of 1976, 1977 and 1980, the exhibition provides a brief overview of some of the boycott actions that were staged by students of black schools in Mangaung during this period. Furthermore, profiles of six struggle activists who have played either a direct or an indirect role in the Mangaung school boycotts were compiled. With the exception of Winnie Mandela, all individuals were interviewed for the National Museum’s research projects on Mangaung’s liberation heritage. The profiled activists speak for themselves through direct quotes from oral history interviews. The exhibition is concluded with a discussion of the aftermath of the Soweto uprisings and how the Soweto students have inspired other students to resist an inferior education system. During the late 1970s and early 1980s school boycotts were powerful tools for the youth to demonstrate and voice their discontent.
The exhibition may be viewed until the end of June 2022.
Text: Dr Derek du Bruyn
Exhibition Design: Marelie van Rensberg