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Fhazel Johennesse

A young man's thoughts before June the 16th

Easy questions on which to cut your teeth!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 1 March 2014
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The poet places himself in the shoes of one of the teenagers who participated in the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976. He sees himself the day before the event, foreseeing the tragedy that is due to erupt.

Notice how the poet portrays a hum-drum, happy-go-lucky life of the innocent victims of the brutality that was about to happen.


After taking power in South Africa in 1948, the National Party systematically worked on its plan of social engineering which it called Apartheid. The goal was to divide every aspect of the country along racial lines, and create homelands for the Black population.

In 1953 the Bantu Education Act introduced this plan into the schools. The aim was to educate the Black youth into becoming permanent servants.

"There is no place for the African in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour," stated Dr H.F. Verwoerd, the architect of Bantu Education. "It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim, absorption in the European community."

Initial protest against Bantu Education was minimal, with only the Catholic Church mounting spirited opposition.

By the 1970s, however, the Apartheid system itself was beginning to show cracks. Furthermore, the rapidly developing industrial state needed educated youth. The schools that were created in Soweto to meet this demand, however, became the melting pot for opposition to Bantu Education.

On 16 June 1976, high school children from Soweto began a protest march for a better education system. Their banners centred on their hatred at being forced to undertake 50% of their schooling through the medium of Afrikaans which they regarded as the language of oppression.

The police intervened, attempting to disperse the youth by means of teargas and live bullets. The resultant massacre of the youth became the rallying point for rolling mass-action that would eventually see the end of the hated Apartheid system.

June 16 (Soweto Day) is now a public holiday in South Africa, under the title of Youth Day.

Unfortunately, we have absolutely no information about the poet -- or even a photograph of him. If anyone could help us, we would be extremely grateful.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

What happened on June 16? Why is this date important in the poet's memory? (6)

[Need help?]

"tomorrow i travel on a road
that winds to the top of the hill"
  • What is the "road that winds to the top of the hill"? (4)

[Need help?]

"i ask only for a sad song"
  • What do we call this "sad song"? (2)

[Need help?]

Comment on the use of alliteration in each of the following lines:
  • "the broad belch of beer" (3)

[Need help?]

  • "a sad song sung by a woman" (3)

[Need help?]

  • "strummed by an old man with a broken brow" (3)

[Need help?]

  • "o sing my sad song sing for me" (3)

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