FORTY years after this brutal death on the streets of Soweto, the late Melville Edelstein will finally be honored this Thursday when a plaque will be erected in his name, as part of the programme of events to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1976 uprising.
“Dad’s contribution to the fight against apartheid was acknowledged at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and now he is finally being honoured,” his daughter, Janet Goldblatt, told Business Day this week.
Edelstein, who held a doctorate in sociology, had worked in Soweto for 18 years, devoting most of his time to the youth and the disabled. At the time of his death he was the deputy chief welfare officer for the West Rand Administration Board.
He was highly respected and during the last few years of his life, and he documented the concerns of the young men and women with whom he came into contact each day, entitling his thesis, “What do young Africans think?”
He had reportedly warned the apartheid government that their project of separateness was about to blow up in their faces, but they would not listen.
When the violence broke out on June 16, Edelstein was in Orlando East at the opening of the new sheltered workshop programme for the disabled. He dashed back to his office on Mputhi Street, in Jabavu, to ensure his colleagues were safe.
However, when he emerged from his office a few hours later, he walked into the thick of an angry mob who beat him to a pulp.
When his disfigured frame was found a few hours later by photographer Peter Magubane, there was a tag hung around his neck, bearing the chilling words: “Beware, Afrikaans is the most dangerous drug for our future”.
The tragedy is that Edelstein had been mistaken for a member of the regime at whom the youth were directing their ire. He was 57 at the time of his death.
When she appeared before the TRC in 1996, Janet talked about her father’s humanitarian work and appealed to know who killed him or what his dying words were. It was then, 30 years ago, that she asked for a plaque to be erected in his honour.
“It is for our children and grandchildren, and the people of Soweto to know who he was, what he did and what he stood for,” she said.
More than 50 of the Edelstein’s friends and family, including Melville’s wife Rhona, now 82, are expected to attend the unveiling which is scheduled to take place shortly after 7am on Thursday.
Rabbi Eitan Ash, along with a number of other rabbis, are also expected to attend.
It is not clear who will officiate the event on the part of the government.