Hugh Masekela – Soweto Blues and Arab Springs

I finally had the opportunity to see the legendary Hugh Masekela in concert on Tuesday night as part of Helsinki’s Juhlaviikot festival. 

Hugh Masekela is one of those icons that stood steadfastly in my youth reminding us of the gross injustice that was Apartheid playing out just beyond our borders in South Africa.

The newspapers and television were filled with reports of violence and resistance in South Africa and films and documentaries reminded us of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, the Sharpeville massacre and, as a young person, most profoundly of the 1976 Soweto uprising when hundreds of youth were killed and thousands injured. This rebellion was seen as a turning point in the anti-apartheid movement, one of its outcomes being a greater trend to violence.

The journey from there to the 1994 elections must have seemed like an eternity to those caught in the turmoil – no one can tell the future. I’m sure a great many people at many times must have felt so embroiled in the violent present that they could not see a future, and when they shut their eyes to dream all they saw was the worst that could possibly come.

Two decades is a long time to wait. The young people that celebrated in the so-called Arab Spring have most likely found that the systems of that keep them oppressed are far more entrenched than they imagined, they’re finding they underestimated the duration of the battle and the depth of the lust for power among the factions.

Worst of all there are no guarantees of resolution. Today, nearly forty years after the 16th June uprising, we still talk of economic apartheid in South Africa and racism, though expunged from the law, is still an everyday reality - too many people have been left out of the New South Africa.  Meanwhile to the distant observer, the lines between the good and bad guys in Egypt, Syria and other Arab states are clouding as it gets harder and harder to believe that there could be a resolution in which the common woman, the everyman and the average child wins.

Hugh Masekela reminded us that upon his release from prison Nelson Mandela advocated forgiveness and reconciliation to the point that many people didn’t get the justice they envisioned – they had to trade retribution for peace, which perhaps saved them from being caught in the vengeance and bloodlust that was foreseeable.

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