Sunday, 8 May 2016

Spirit of Soweto: racism and rebellion 40 years on

A number of campaigners and educators - in partnership with the Martin Luther King Peace Committee - are organising a conference, to be held at Newcastle University on Saturday 18 June, titled 'Spirit of Soweto: racism and rebellion 40 years on'.

I am one of the organisers and it is supported by Newcastle Stop the War, North East People's Assembly, Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Newcastle's Multilingual Library, Stand up to Racism (North East), Newcastle Unites and Unite Against Fascism (North East).

The conference is designed to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, which involved tens of thousands of black South African school students (in Soweto and beyond) protesting against racist apartheid policies in schools. This rebellion was greeted with large-scale massacres by state authorities.

It is universally seen as having been a turning point in the struggle to end apartheid, both through opposition inside the country and through the efforts of the global boycott and solidarity movement. The precise anniversary of the uprising starting is 16 June, so the conference takes place on the nearest Saturday.

One aim of the conference is to rediscover the history of what happened in Soweto in 1976 and examine its significance for the direction and success of the anti-apartheid movement. Furthermore, this will be used as a springboard for discussing a range of issues relating to racism (and non-violent resistance to it) more widely.

The event will specifically make links between history and the present day, learning and taking inspiration from South Africa four decades ago to nourish anti-racist and international solidarity movements in 2016.

Further details including speakers will be announced over the next few weeks, but the timetable is already available. The o
pening plenary session ('Soweto Uprising: a turning point in the struggle to end apartheid') focuses on the history, while the closing plenary ('Racism and rebellion today') brings things up to date: Islamophobia, immigration, the refugee crisis, and so on.

In between these sessions there will be several workshop options:
- The Soweto Uprising and the international solidarity movement
- Promoting peace, equality and anti-racism in schools
- Spirit of Soweto: poetry and music for social change
- Freedom City: when Martin Luther King came to Newcastle
- Apartheid in South Africa and Israel: boycott movements and justice
- Prevent agenda: Islamophobia in schools?

The event starts at 11am and concludes at 5pm. Tickets must be bought in advance and are available through the Spirit of Soweto Eventbrite page.

There will also be a special poetry night in Tyneside on Thursday 16 June, celebrating the anniversary, with details to follow.


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