The eruption of student uprisings in June 1976 has to be seen in its proper perspective.
Today, organisations and individuals have claimed responsibility for the uprising. However, events prior to June 16, 1976 will show that no one other than the students themselves, under the leadership of the South African Student’s Movement (SASM), can claim responsibility. To this end, we will look at events prior to the day in terms of :
* Political trends obtaining at that time.
* The Afrikaans Issue
* The aftermath
From its inception, the South African Students’ Organisation ( SASO) and thus the Black Consciousness philosophy, had maintained that it recognised the historical existence of other liberation movements. Thus, Black Consciousness ( B.C.) did not see itself as an alternative to them but recognised its role in liberating the Black people of Azania. Emphasis was initially placed on the psychological liberation, which was the driving force behind the student uprisings of 1976.
All Black organisations that were operating above board in that period were doing so under the broad banner of B.C. – there was this common understanding and approach to the liberation of the country. Even organisations such as the Inkatha Cultural Movement, which were at odds with the B.C.M. on a number of issues – such as operating within the Bantustan system, were appreciative of B.C.
Thus prior to 1976, the Black community did not have the political cleavages currently obtaining. Consultations were held across known political affiliations. Therefore, the Black People’s Convention (B.P.C.), could easily consult with the known members of the other organisations. Co-operation and consultation were in all events the norm.
THE AFRIKAANS ISSUE
If there is anybody who could claim responsibility for the June 16 1976 Uprisings, it could be Dr Andries Treurnicht, who was then the Deputy Minister in the Department of Bantu Administration, Development and Education in charge of Bantu Education, under Minister M.C. Botha. His Memorandum to School Boards, Inspectors and Principals instructing them to use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction was the direct cause of the unrest.
The first group to respond to these instructions was the Tswana School Boards. As early as January 1976, these school boards in Meadowlands, Dobsonville and other areas under the Tswana School Boards had taken an attitude towards this instruction. An excerpt from the minutes of the Meadowlands Tswana School Board of the 20 January 1976 is instructive :
“ The circuit inspector told the board that the Secretary for Bantu Education has stated that all direct taxes paid by the Black population of South Africa are being sent to the various homelands for educational purposes there.
“In urban areas the education of a Black child is being paid for by the White population, that is English and Afrikaans speaking groups. Therefore the Secretary for the Bantu Education has the responsibility of satisfying the English and Afrikaans speaking people. Consequently, as the only way of satisfying both groups, the medium of instruction in all schools shall be on a 50-50 basis…. In future, if schools teach through a medium not prescribed by the department for a particular subject, examination question papers will only be set in the medium with no option of the other language”.
The objection of the Tswana school boards was that the control of their school boards had shifted to the Bophuthatswana government in terms of government legislation and that the central government no longer had any jurisdiction on them.
The B.P.C., through its Secretary General, Thandisizwe Mazibuko, participated in all meetings called by the Tswana School Board, together with Thomas Manthata in his capacity as an official of the South African Council of Churches. As a matter of fact, at the time of the outbreak of the unrest, the B.P.C. and the Tswana School Board had engaged services of a lawyer to work on an interdict against the Minister.
In the meantime, the students in SOWETO had formed the Student Representative Council
( S.R.C.) And were involved in consultations with all organisations and individuals of note in the community.
The B.P.C. was in a better position to liaise with the SRC in that some members of the organisation had been teachers in some of the SOWETO High Schools like Sekano Ntoane, Naledi and Orlando West High. People like Tom Manthata, Sammy Tloubatla and Aubrey Mokoena were active members of B.P.C.
It must however be made very clear that the planning of the March was left to the students. Advice was given where sought. The week-end before the fateful June 16 day, a meeting was held between the students and members of the B.P.C. to finalise the strategy for the march.
Earlier it was mentioned that the cornerstone of the B.C. philosophy was psychological liberation. The Afrikaans issue was seen by the students and the community at large as part of a strategy by the National Party to oppress Black people psychologically. Thus, ways and means had to be found to counter this threat. The war of psychological liberation was therefore imminent.
It is ironic that the first among the known political activists of the day to be arrested was George Wauchope, who was the Chairman of the Johannesburg Central Branch of the B.P.C.
Magauta Molefe, Administrative Secretary at the Head Office of the B.P.C., followed. By the end of July 1976 almost all active members of the B.P.C. in Johannesburg had been detained, including the President, Hlaku Rachidi and the Secretary General, Thandisizwe Mazibuko.
It is of interest to note that the Soviet KGB sent one their agents, Major Koslov, to investigate claims by some externally based organisation that they were responsible for the uprising. This officer, who was arrested by the Boers, reported unfavourably on their involvement in this national uprising.
The flood of young people into exile after the uprisings served as a serious indictment on all the liberation movements. The fact is that prior to June 1976, there wasn’t enough pressure exerted on the South African regime militarily either because the organisations lacked the capacity or the political will to do so. Let the matter rest here.
The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), which the B.C. camp aptly named Uniroyal, Dunlop and Firestone after the tyre companies because of the number of necklace murders they carried out against anybody that disagreed with them or presented better arguments to theirs, was an effort on part of one of these organisations to show a presence in the country.
The wars between the UDF and AZAPO are history. However, things have to be put in their proper perspective. In 1978 at the Modder Bee Prison where most activists were imprisoned after the banning of the B.C. organisations, some turn coats, as one would expect them, went all out to attack the B.P.C. and the Black Consciousness Philosophy. This came as a result of a Radio Freedom broadcast which condemned the Committee of Ten – forerunner to today’s civic movement in the country – and thus the B.P.C. as “sell-outs” who deserved the firing squad. This broadcast was heard by many inmates at the Modder Bee Prison.
In 1979, some of these turn coats went about telling members of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), which was founded on the 28th April 1978 and had most of its leadership harassed, imprisoned and banned, that if they did not disband by the end of July 1979, they would not be held responsible for what would happen to AZAPO and B.C. adherents. Several meetings called to try and address these tensions failed and that in fact was the beginning of the “politics of intolerance” and political hegemony among the oppressed in the country.
In 1980, Thandisizwe Mazibuko, the last Secretary General of B.P.C. Mpotseng Kgokong, both banned and restricted to Johannesburg, tried unsuccessfully to intervene to stop an ugly campaign waged by ex-SASO office bearer and two clerics from the Christian Institute against former members of the B.P.C. and AZAPO. AZAPO was labelled a CIA front by these crusaders.
In 1985, at their conference held at Kabwe in Zambia, they resolved to “liquidate” the B.C.M.
This directive from abroad was carried with gusto by the U.D.F. inside the country. Hence the cruel and painful deaths of so many of our cadres who sacrificed so much to make this country a worthwhile place to live in.
Very inflammatory statements against AZAPO in this same year made by one cleric after the abortive Ted Kennedy visit to South Africa did not make things any easy.
It is indeed ironic and sad that some of the B.C. cadres that fled the country in the mid-eighties to seek political asylum in foreign countries did so not in flight from savage Boer repression, but form the UDF activists who were hunting them down with obvious intention of killing them in the savage manner that they had grown accustomed to and which had become their trade mark, the necklace – Black South Africa’s curse of the century!
The cold, cruel and systematic isolation of the B.C. cadre in exile should also be mentioned.
These are the people who could tell the truth about the unfolding political events in the country. But, they were expected to perpetuate the lie that someone else who had no idea of the unfolding events in the country, was responsible for them. Most of these cadres were politically moulded in the noble B.C. philosophy and were principled enough to agree to be used in this brazen manner. We count Cde Tsietsi Mashinini amongst these gallant sons and daughters of Azania.
This isolation was calculated to throttle these cadres into total submission. Fortunately, that failed.
All these things were done with the misplaced hope that the B.C.M. would be removed from the South African political arena. How wrong they were !
Black Consciousness has in its years of existence in South Africa (since 1st July 1969 ), gone through unparalled repression and hostility from the state and its ideological opponents alike. In terms of leadership, we have lost more men and women than any other organisation at the hands of the Boer regime and our political opponents in the Black community. We have survived this and gone through it with a great measure of dignity. We stand for the truth and shall forever uphold it.
BLACK POWER !!! BLACK POWER !!! BLACK POWER !!!
ONE AZANIA – ONE NATION
Compiled by Mpotseng Kgokong, June 1996