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Inside the Soweto Uprising

Inside the Soweto Uprising

Internationally acclaimed author Arushi Raina will be at the Gibsons Public Library for a workshop and reading event on Saturday, Feb. 1. Raina’s debut novel, When Morning Comes, centres around the Soweto Youth Uprising and won a Children’s Africana Book Award in 2018 and was shortlisted for a Neev Children’s Book Award. Raina specifically wrote her novel for young adult readers but its complex narratives and themes has garnered many adult fans as well. “I’m excited that youth are reading it in addition to adult readers,” says Raina. “The response is overwhelming.”

When Morning Comes takes place in apartheid South Africa and tells the story of the Soweto Uprising from the perspective of four characters: Jack, a privileged white youth; Thabo, a black youth gang member; Meena, an Indian middle class youth; and Zanele, a poor black young woman activist. Flawed and very real, these characters provide a direct connection to the larger historical setting of the Uprising. On June 16, 1976 an estimated 20,000 students marched the streets of Soweto protesting a law making Afrikaans the language of instruction in schools. Police response was brutal with thousands of youth injured and hundreds killed. “The Soweto Uprising is a story of agency and the power of youth in the face of oppression,” says Raina. “This book is an attempt to understand [those events]. The characters [are] clashing against their own belief system and biases. The small human moments are as evocative as the big historical events the story is set within.” Raina, who was born in Delhi, grew up in Johannesburg in the years shortly after the end of apartheid in 1994 during the time of Truth and Reconciliation. She recalls playing house with her classmates and always being cast in the role of servant.  “They had grown up in apartheid,” says Raina.  “The white kids always played the parents. That was a very odd and interesting dynamic, how a six-year-old is already being exposed to racism without knowing what that is.”  Though she learned the facts of the Uprising as a teen in school, it was later while studying English at Vassar College and reading first-hand accounts of the protesters that she became inspired to write about the Uprising. “By showing different perspectives of the same event I get to show how much who we are shapes the story we tell ourselves and the story that ends up being,” she says. “The contrast in those stories, that’s where the tension in this book really lies, not just the big epic moments.”


Arushi Raina grew up in Johannesburg and her award-winning young adult novel, When Morning Comes, tells the story of the Soweto Uprising through the eyes of four young people. She will host a writing workshop for teenagers at the Gibsons Public Library on Feb. 1, as well as give a talk on the 1976 protest. Photo submitted

Since the novel’s publication, Raina has been giving workshops and presentations in high schools in Canada, the US, and South Africa. “Fiction is a very powerful way for bringing up key issues we want people to grapple with without telling them what to think,” she says. Participants will be given writing exercises and the opportunity to ask questions. “The workshop is going to be playing around with voice and just having a bit of fun,” she says. After the workshop, Raina will give a short presentation on the Soweto Uprising, followed by a reading. “I’m really excited to meet everyone,” she says.

On Saturday Feb. 1, from 11am-1pm, Arushi Raina will give a writing workshop for youth ages 12+. Anyone interested in exploring writing is welcome. The workshop is free but space is limited so those interested should register by calling the library at 604-886-2130. From 2:30-3:30pm Raina will give a reading and short presentation on “The Soweto Youth Uprising in Fact & Fiction” followed by a discussion. Both events take place at the Gibsons Public Library and all are welcome.

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