blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Jean Baptiste HARAGIRIYAREMYE
It was on 16th June, 1976 when Soweto high school students took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the use of Afrikaans (a language imported from Dutch used by colonialists) as an official language of instruction in black secondary schools.
The students planned to meet at Orlando Stadium (currently the stadium for “Orlando Pirates”) before marching to the regional offices of the Department of Bantu Education, where they intended raise their grievances against the authorities. They carried placards that read, “Away with Afrikaans”, “Amandla awethu” (“Power to the people”) and “Free Azania” (“Free South
Africa”), and sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), now the national anthem of South Africa.
On their way to the stadium they met policemen who ordered them to stop demonstrating and get lost. The violent confrontations started. students started hurling stones on the police, and then the police opened fire on them mercilessly, the tragic event in which 550 people were reportedly killed and the one who was killed first was Hector Pieterson a 12year old boy as you can see on the above picture with his colleague and his sister trying to save his life but he had been shot badly he could not survive.
The lesson I take from this was that there must be sacrifice, of people who stand steadfast in their positions and keep focused to their commitments until the end of the struggle, like here they were fighting for their basic rights as citizens and fighting against apartheid which was devastating the whole country. Though some heroes risked their lives sacrificed their blood for this struggle, like Hector Pieterson, and passed away in the middle of the battle, the remaining activists like Nelson Mandela fought to the peak of the mountain. Now South Africa is no longer suffering from Apartheid. The consequences are still there but their achievements can speak for themselves.
This time I spent reflecting in South Africa relates to an experience I had during the GYC Program in Rwanda:
During week 2, the GYC delegation went to Bisesero Genocide Memorial where we were explained on the tragedy and nightmare that Tutsi went through during Genocide, trying to heroically protect themselves on the mountain top only to be betrayed by the French army. Then we continued our journey to Kiziba camp of Congolese Refugees living in Rwanda since 1997/8. We didn’t get a chance to enter but fortunately we were with Augustin NKANIKA, who was a refugee from that camp participating as well in the GYC program. We stopped at the top of the mountain where we could get a view of the camp and Augustin gave us some details about how they live and survive in the camp, it really was a sad story but we had to bear in our minds that we should try to advocate for these refugees up to the peak of the mountain to make sure that at least their lives are getting better.
The day after we had a chance to receive some young people from the camp who joined us at the hotel in which we were accommodated and we had a free discussion with them and thank God that they were able to get open and share with us their life story in camp and I was happy that they try to be happy with what they are provided with in the camp but they are willing to make change once they get a change.
Both the trip to South Africa and the GYC Program reminded me that gross human rights violations can happen anywhere in the world, but most importantly I discovered that the human rights respect starts by ourselves, to mean that if we are not being keen regarding human rights respect, the same tragedy can reach us at anytime, I would say that let’s work hand in hand to stop human rights violation because “ if I do not want to help extinguishing my neighbor’s house that is set on fire, mine may be next to be attacked by fire’’, meaning that today it is me and tomorrow may be you but by working hands in hands we can make change to the globe.
A human rights activist should also be his/her own guard because some time we find human rights activists being harassed for the purpose of voicing out Human Rights abuses, so human rights actors must be professional and keep focused on the rule of law to make sure that at least basic human rights principles are put in places in favor of rights holders.
Author’s Additional Notes about his programs in Rwanda and South Africa:
August, 1st, 2013 I joined GYC 2013 Human Rights Program in Rwanda and during the program I learned a lot regarding Human Rights issues globally but most especially in Rwanda because the program was focusing on Rwanda, where we tried to go through citizens’ daily life in linkage with Human Rights Based Approach. We visited many sites across the country where we visited US Embassy in Rwanda and had discussions on human rights issues in the country but they shared with us their contribution to make sure that Human Rights Respect is put in place and they contribute through their many established projects spread all over the country.
We also visited some other organizations as ADRA, AVEGA AGAHOZO, etc to share with us how they include the Human Rights Approach in their daily work to help Rwandan Government implementing the International Human Rights Standards.
As GYC Team consisted of young people from around the world (USA, CHINA,BOSNIA, AUTRALIA, CANADA, AND RWANDA) we were taken to the Genocide Memorial Site in Gisozi to get a chance of having a common understanding on Genocide perpetrated against Tutsi in Rwanda 1994 and its history and make a comparison with other genocides committed in other countries, afterwards we had a chance to shares thoughts regarding what had been observed through and we all found that genocide is one of notorious Human rights violations and it is an international crime that follows all perpetrators wherever they can go in the world.
After, we took a trip to the Western Province where we visited Nyange School where we were told about the students who had been heroes by not separating themselves from their colleagues to show malicious that they are all Rwandese. We also went to Karongi District where we spent more than three days learning about Human Rights by visiting Karongi Hospital where we got information on rights on health care including medical insurance, taking a good care for the patients, etc.
On the way back to Kigali we passed by Mubuga village where we found historically marginalized people (Batwa) and they shared with us how they live their lives, where they told us that though they are poor, Rwandan Government try to give them some basic help to make sure that their basic rights are respected.
e.g.: The government pays for their medical insurance
Reaching back in Kigali, I found good news that I had to go to South Africa for the prep course on another 10months fellowship that I applied for while I was volunteering in LIPRODHOR, however I was not able to continue with GYC program that was supposed to finish on 20th, August, 2013 because I was supposed to travel to South Africa on 18th, so I am very grateful for the experience that I gained through this GYC program and very thankful to the entire GYC Team#2013 most especially Executive Director of GYC Mr Jesse HAWKES and Mr. Claude RWIBASIRA/Legal Representative of INALAS for having hosted and trained us for almost the whole August.
My trip to South Africa, August, 18-30, 2013
During my volunteering period at LIPRODHOR, I got a chance to apply for the Fredskorpset (Peace Corps) Norway under which LIPRODHOR is a member organization, so I got a chance to be recommended by LIPRODHOR then I passed through after the interview. After passing through all the FK Fellows were obliged to travel to South Africa for a two week-long preparatory course.
It was on 29th, August when all the FK Team boarded a bus from Johannesburg to Soweto, we had a guide who was telling us about the history of every area where we passed on the way to Soweto. I was mostly impressed by the good infrastructure made despite all the tragedy that happened, they had managed to rebuild their country.
Secondly on our way to Soweto we visited Apartheid Museum located in Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Rd, Johannesburg, we entered to learn about apartheid but unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum. Inside we learned about Mandela’s background before going to jail and after jail at Robben Island where he spent 27 years in prison also fighting against apartheid. At the entrance you find how people were treated during apartheid.
After Hector Pieterson Museum we ended our trip in Soweto at MANDELA’s House named as Soweto Heritage Trust where tourists come to learn about Mandela’s History in Soweto and it is considered as a Museum.