Wendy Kahn

“Tide Of Time Washes Up Healing For All.”


Two days before he died Melville Edelstein, chief welfare officer for the West Rand Administration Board, confided to his wife Rhona that anger among the black youth of Soweto over being compelled to study certain subjects in Afrikaans was reaching dangerous levels.

He was strenuously opposed to the new regulation, which he regarded as being both unjust and likely to intensify deep-seated feelings of resentment in the black population.

He had meticulously documented his sentiments in his capacity as a respected academic researcher, most notably in his widely discussed 1971 masters thesis on opinions and attitudes among matric pupils in Soweto.

In addition to identifying grievances such as influx control, lack of political rights and inadequate educational facilities, Edelstein's study documented how Afrikaners were viewed in a particularly negative light.

It followed that attempts to force young blacks to accept Afrikaans as a medium of instruction might be the tipping point between resentment and acts of outright defiance.

History shows that Edelstein's earnest warnings were disregarded. It also shows that when the anger he warned against erupted in violent protests on June 16 1976 he was one of the first to lose his life.

The bitter irony of it all was that his death came at the hands of young black protesters who in their fury saw not someone who had genuinely dedicated himself to promoting their welfare, but simply as a white man and therefore as the enemy.

Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau described Edelstein as a "peace- loving man who dedicated his life to the service of the poor in the then dusty township streets of South Africa".

He went on to quote what Peter Magubane had said when he found the mortally injured Edelstein: "If they had known who he was this never would have happened. He was part of the community."

Edelstein's daughter, Janet Goldblatt, shared a moving message sent to her by Thandi Ndlovu, the sister of the late Hastings Ndlovu: "Forty years ago your loved one left home to do what he loved most - to serve the people of Soweto.

“​What transpired that day has left a big hole in your individual and collective hearts. As you make the painful journey to the spot where he met his painful death I can only say to you that Melville Edelstein's memory is starting to be engraved in my heart and in the heart of millions of my fellow Sowetans.”

And that is what yesterday was about. It was about engraving in our hearts the memories and legacies of the precious lives we lost on June 16 1976.

Just as Edelstein will be etched in the hearts of the people of Soweto, so will the memory of Ndlovu be engraved in my heart as I and all those present learned about his heartbreaking story. As South Africans our hearts are filled with memories of so much suffering and loss.
But that is not how yesterday ended.

After the memorial plaque in western Jabavu was unveiled by the Edelstein family, Minister in The Presidency Jeff Radebe and Gautendg Premier David Makhura, Levy Rosenthal, 13, prepared to read the Torah that had been brought to this memorial spot where 40 years before his grandfather had lost his life.
Members of the Jewish community, including several rabbis, donned prayer shawls and began the morning prayers.

Thus, amid song and celebration before the memorial to his remarkable grandfather, did young Levy mark his passage into manhood.

Recent Articles

SAJBD condemns antisemitic statements

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies is appalled by the unambiguously antisemitic statements made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. In a chilling revival of classic expressions of anti-Jewish hatred, Abbas sought to justify the historical persecution of Jews by claiming that Jews had brought this upon themselves by their alleged immoral and harmful actions.