2013 - Remembering Dr Melville Edelstein - the life & death of a Good Man

06 Jul 2015 51:56 0
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Melville Edelstein was brutally slain by a crowd of enraged students in Soweto on June 16th, 1976.
Deputy Chief Welfare Officer of the West Rand Administration Board [WRAB], Dr Edelstein was a philanthropist who over some 18 years instituted many community projects for the Youth & the Disabled in Soweto.
A practicing orthodox Jew, Melville Edelstein was apolitical & dedicated to serving the good of mankind. He was also a pacifist who refused to enlist for World War II.
Before his death, he worked closely with the youth of Soweto & produced a prophetic Masters thesis intended to warn the Nationalist Party Govt of their looming collision-course with Black youth, titled, “What do young Africans Think”.
His warnings went unheeded.
On June 16th 1976, the youth of Soweto took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration to register their rejection of the institution of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in “Bantu Education” schools.
That morning, Dr Edelstein was hosting the official opening for a branch of his Sheltered Workshop Program designed to provide employment for the disabled in Orlando East, Soweto.
When news of the student uprising reached the project, the ceremony was brought to a hurried end as dignitaries and workers were ferried out of the township.
Concerned about the safety of a colleague – Pierette Jacques, back at the Youth Centre in Jabavu – Melville Edelstein drove from Orlando East through crowds of gathering students to get to her office. It was a fatal mistake.
Pierette had long since left and when Melville arrived at her office the political temperature had already been raised by police shootings in the township & he walked straight into the wrath of a seething crowd of enraged students.
Shortly there-after, news photographer Peter Magubane came across the disfigured remains of Dr Edelstein’s body – a crude sign hung around his neck with the words,“Beware, Afrikaans is the most dangerous drug for our future”.
“If they’d known who he was, this would never have happened”, Magubane was quoted as saying.
Caught in the back-lash to the most oppressive phase of the Apartheid era – Melville Edelstein was the victim of the consequences of a racist system which socialized South Africans to impulsively judge and respond to one another - not as individuals with individual qualities, but according to a stereotypical image based solely on skin colour.

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