Remembrance: Soweto Massacre and Bloody Sunday

By Michelle Chen Jun 16, 2010

This week brings somber remembrances of two acts of massive brutality that occurred about a generation ago on opposite ends of the hemisphere. Both incidents exposed the shame of racial or ethnic strife under colonization, both galvanized radical social movements that later rose to overturn the establishment, and both demonstrated lessons about the power of mass protest, as well as the power of the media to frame and expose injustice to observers around the world. In South Africa today, World Cup followers are remembering the 1976 Soweto Uprising, a bloody clash between the apartheid regime and student protesters opposed to the white-supremacist education system, which left an untold number dead. Amid the air of triumph surrounding the first African World Cup, South Africans and the rest of the world can reflect on the long journey from apartheid to a vision of post-colonial democratic peace, which in many ways remains more aspirational than real. Citizens of Ireland and the United Kingdom revisited a similar stain left by another colonial legacy in Northern Ireland. The new British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a sharply worded, if long overdue apology for the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry in 1972. The families of the protesters who were killed in the clash finally obtained some vindication and closure, as an official report declared that they were indeed the victims of a brutal crackdown by army soldiers. The Irish and South African youth born after these tragedies might have trouble recognizing the images, now that their respective communities have spent decades in the process of collective healing, to varying degrees of success. But when you look and listen closely, the trauma still resonates with today’s ongoing struggles against imperialism and oppressive regimes. The background may have shifted to other parts of the world, but the narrative remains constant, and we’re all responsible for holding the focus. Image: Hector Pieterson was killed on June 16, 1976 (Sam Mzima,