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For the sake of our youth, and our future, teachers must get vaccinated

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Prof Michael le Cordeur is the Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Education Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.

We have been silent for too long about the Lost Generation of 1976. Those whose lives were destroyed in a single day, whose children wander around aimlessly and unemployed because they never got a chance to recover. That is why we must think carefully about how the Covid-19 pandemic is managed in the future.

We have just survived the longest night of the year. It is the middle of winter. South Africa finds itself in the throes of a pandemic. Yet there is much to be thankful for. My children came to visit on Father’s Day and I received the first of my Pfizer vaccinations.

It was thus with a feeling of liberation that I woke up on Youth Day – something which I had last experienced during the coming of democracy in 1994. I had an appointment with 16-year-old Zoe, a learner of Stellenberg High School. Thanks to technology, the meeting took place on Zoom: a sign of the new normal despite the third wave.

Zoe’s task was to interview someone who had experienced 16 June 1976 firsthand. Her grandfather, my colleague and mentor Prof Arend Carl, had referred her to me. Her questions were probing, searching for the facts which have been withheld from the youth for too long. Where was I on that day? Were we forced to leave our home? Where did we go? Which apartheid laws were the most painful? What emotions do I experience when I recall those times 45 year ago?

I responded as honestly as possible but chose my words carefully. You do not want to deprive someone so young of any hope. Nor do you want to make the youth negative about the future, especially those who pursue reconciliation. After an hour, the interview was over. An uncomfortable silence followed. Zoe’s grandfather who had sat in on the interview was clearly moved. The truth cuts deeply.

He wanted to apologise for the sins of our fathers and forefathers. “That is not necessary; I forgave a long time ago,” I replied. For the first time it hit me that coloureds and blacks are not the only ones with scars from 1976. I also know now that it helps to talk about the past, to rid yourself of the feelings of guilt and of resentment. It brings healing, so that we can move forward.

But there are a few things we must still discuss. One of them is that Afrikaans was not the only cause of the youth revolt. My contemporaries and I fought apartheid in Afrikaans. However, forcing Afrikaans on to black learners was a mistake; the spark in the powder keg of accumulated horrors. Another thing about which we have been silent for too long, is the Lost Generation of 1976. Those whose lives were destroyed in a single day, whose children wander around aimlessly and unemployed because they never got a chance to recover.

That is why we must think carefully about how this pandemic is managed in the future. I am aware that the vaccinations are voluntary. But taking the vaccination affords you a chance of survival. It is also an opportunity to save the lives of your colleagues and learners and so many others; to give the youth their place in the sun for which they have waited so long.

That is why I appeal to teachers to get the vaccination against Covid-19. It is simply the right thing to do. When the night is at its darkest, dawn is near. DM

Gallery

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  • Dear Michael
    Thank you for your beautiful and emotive recollection of the 1976 drama.
    That time was all about freedom of choice… Our highest conscience must be allowed to grow in freedom and speak. This is the true root of a fruitful democracy.
    Manipulators of humanity have always used our fears to remove our freedoms. I would think that you would know this. Please be careful…

    • “Manipulators of humanity have always used our fears to remove our freedoms” well said Philip.

      1976 more than anything should be a reminder of freedom of choice, how important that is and the consequences when ignored. Not to be imposed on by self interested individuals who have consistently promised liberation while their actions have entrenched what they claimed to oppose.

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