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Could killing teenagers be the final straw in seeking gun safety laws? --Soweto, South Africa in 1976 and Parkland, Florida in 2018
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Faculty in Humanities, Austin College
Mar 23, 2018
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After the Second World War, apartheid (legally separating Blacks, Coloureds, Whites and Asians) was a major issue in South Africa. Slow progress was enhanced during the late 1950s by the growing civil rights movement in the USA and pressure from most member states of the United Nations. When South African police shot about 6000 unarmed and peaceful protestors, killing 69, in Sharpeville in 1960, international news sources thought this would be the end of apartheid. Had there been social media then, it might have been the beginning of the end; but the cheap labor that attracted international investments increased the support of corporations, including many in the USA.

As the human rights movements became stronger in the 1960s, ending South African apartheid was added to the USA’s agenda of race, feminism, and peace with justice in Vietnam. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech (where he spoke truth to power at great risk of losing support from the US government) underlined that “Saigon, Selma and South Africa” were intertwined in a similar struggle. An international movement emerged to boycott and divest from companies whose profits were based on cheap labor in South Africa.

Black school children in Soweto (South West Township of Johannesburg) went to the streets in 1976 to protest the government’s decree that mathematics and social studies could be taught only in Afrikaans--Dutch-based with some Portuguese, Malay, Khoisan and Bantu--in the 18th century, Afrikaans was written in Arabic script. About 20,000 students protested peacefully, but the children killed by armed police was somewhere between the 170 and 700. With resistance to apartheid rising around the world, and with improved media communications, the murder of Soweto’s children joined many other older and contemporary events to legally ban it by 1994.

The USA’s Black Caucus in Congress was a key part of passing the “Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act” of 1986, which had a long legislative history in the House stretching back to 1972. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the 1986 act, but Congress overrode his veto. The ten years between Soweto (1976) and the legal ending of apartheid appears a long time—even longer to the non-White majority in South Africa! Without the Soweto massacre, it would have been much longer.

The question we cannot answer yet is: “Will the killing of high school students in Parkland, Florida in 2018 be another ‘Sandy Hook’ where 20 grade children were massacred in 2017, or will it be a ‘Soweto’? The march in Washington on March 24 may help answer this question. The teenagers of Parkland, Florida may have added great strength to those who want the USA to take a much more serious second look at the Second Amendment, and to interpret it for today’s realities.