Wednesday, 16 June 2010

State Violence - From Derry to Soweto

34 years ago today ten thousand students demonstrated in Soweto, South Africa. The students had been involved in a school boycott since mid-May when the racist Apartheid South Africa Government had introduced a requirement that pupils in segregated Black schools would be taught in English and Afrikaans whereas white pupils could chose which of the two languages to study in.   The students march was largely peaceful but came into conflict with South African Police who opened fire killing over twenty students.

An excellent account by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick of the protest and the resultant state violence can be read here.

Yesterday saw the publication of the Saville Report following the Inquiry into Bloody Sunday were British soldiers opened fire on a peaceful march in Derry killing 14 demonstrators. This massacre took place four years before Soweto.  Yesterday's report has, after nearly 40 years, officially established that:
None was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire ... We have concluded that none of them [the British soldiers]fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday.
As is so often the case it was the victims who were initially blamed.  both the British government and the British Army had claimed that the violence was the responsibility of those killed and their fellow demonstrators. now they accept this is not true and David Cameron has formally apologised stating that the killings 'were unjustified and unjustifiable.'

What these two incidents remind me is that much violence is not individual but carried out by the state in our name. In particular when those with legitimate grievances demonstrate they often provoke a violent response from the state.  These cases were not isolated but consistently happen throughout history. From Peterloo in Manchester in 1819 where those demanding representation in Parliament were slain by British troops to the civil rights marchers in Alabama who on the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 were brutally attacked by State troopers and local police to the 2010 Thai Red Shirts whose campaign for real democracy is currently being ruthlessly crushed by the Thai state.

In tribute to those who died

Hat tip to the Bogside artists for the Derry picture

No comments:

Post a Comment