SOWETO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicked off a three-nation African trip on Sunday paying tribute to the Soweto Uprising, a student protest whose tragic ending galvanised the world against the apartheid regime.
His visit comes as Washington scales up diplomacy to counter Russian influence on the continent and follows hot on the heels of an extensive tour of Africa by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
For his first stop, the US top diplomat chose South Africa, a leader in the developing world, which has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Blinken laid a wreath and toured the Hector Pieterson Museum, built in memory of students killed in a 1976 protest which became one of the watersheds in the anti-apartheid movement. It was named after the 12-year-old boy who was the first to be shot and killed by police on June 16, 1976.
During the afternoon visit to Soweto township, the heartland of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, Blinken was shown around the museum by Pieterson’s sister Antoinette Sithole.
“What’s so extraordinary about this museum is that it’s living history because it’s inspiring people to see the power that young people can have to make change,” Blinken said after the tour.
He made reference to the iconic black-and-white picture of a dying Hector Pieterson being carried away by a teary fellow student after security forces opened fire on the young protesters.
The photograph “probably did as much to open hearts and open minds and raise consciousness about apartheid and about the struggle for equality and freedom as anything”.
Pieterson’s story “really resonates because we have our own struggle for freedom and equality in the United States”, Blinken said.
Over 170 were gunned down when thousands of black students protested at being forced to study in Afrikaans, the language of the white-minority regime.
Blinken will hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make a policy announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement.
The two will “discuss ongoing and recent developments relating to the global geopolitical situation,” it said.
The US State Department last month said African countries were “geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day”.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2022