Cde Onkgopotse Tiro was born on the 9th November 1945 in Dinokana, Sefatlhane District, North West Province, South Africa.
He started his schooling in 1951 at the Ikalafeng Primary School. The school was closed down as a result of strikes against passes for women. This disrupted his studies.
During this period of disruption, i.e. five months, he worked on a manganese mine for 75 cents per week as a dishwasher and general hand to raise funds to further his studies. He was at Naledi High School in SOWETO for two months but was arrested for a pass offence. He then went to Barolong High School in Mafikeng where he matriculated.
He then proceeded to the University of the North (Turfloop) where he became President of the SRC in 1970 – 1971.
One of his earlier encounters with the administration as SRC President was when they wanted expunged from the student diary two articles that they regarded as “objectionable” : the SASO Policy Manifesto and the Declaration of Students’ Rights. The administration confiscated the diaries and removed the items. On returning these to the student body, the students made a bonfire of them.
In April 1972, the graduandi of that year asked Cde Tiro to represent them at the graduation ceremony. He made his famous speech and was expelled from the institution by the University Authorities. His parting shot to Prof J.L. Boshoff, Rector of the university before being driven away by university administrative staff, was a quotation from the bible: ” For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth”. The expulsion has made me realise that one can be punished for saying two plus two make four”, said Tiro.
In 1973 he took over as SASO’s Permanent Organiser after the banning of the SASO/BPC leaders in 1973. In that same year, he was elected the President of the Southern African Students’ Movement (SASM), an affiliate of the All-Africa Students’ Union ( AASU).
In his message of solidarity to the 5th SASO General Students’ Council, as President of the SASM, Cde Tiro wrote: ” From this meeting some of you will be called a number of names, the most prominent of which will be communist; some of you will be forced to sleep with hungry stomachs; some will be faced with external separation with their parents and friends; some will languish in prison. This is not new. Our forerunners have suffered all this. No struggle can come to an end without casualties. It is only through determination, absolute commitment and positive self-assertion that we shall overcome”.
This letter was written some two weeks before he was blown to pieces by a powerful parcel bomb sent to him by agents of the apartheid regime. He died on the 1st February 1974; the first Azanian to be pursued beyond the borders of our country by the enemy and silenced for good.
Cde Tiro was buried in Botswana because the then Apartheid regime and its surrogates forces, would not allow Tiro ‘s body to be buried at his home in Dinokana Village. The Tiro Family with the support of the Azanian People’s Organisation, requested the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to assist them in bringing the remains of Tiro back into the country for re-burial. On the 20th March 1998, the President of Azapo, Mosibudi Mangena, Mrs Moleseng Tiro – Onkgopotse Tiro ‘s Mother, Mookami Tiro – Tiro ‘s younger Brother and family members; accepted the remains of Onkgopotse Tiro at the border post between South Africa and Botswana. Thanks goes to the Botswana Government for giving the Tiro Family and Azanian People’s Organisation the permission to proceed with the exhumation and the permission to cross-over to South Africa.
Tiro ‘s remains was finally re-buried at his hometown, Dinokana Village on the 22nd March 1998. Almost a year later, after his reburial, nobody has accepted responsibility for Cde Tiro ‘s death. We shall not rest until those responsible are brought to book. We have been robbed-off a leader par excellence in this country, his spirit shall live and remain with us forever.
His commitment, coupled with his disarming humility, shall always inspire us in the service of our people.
One AZANIA – One Nation
SASO – South African Students Organisation
Sefatlhane District – known as Zeerust
BPC – Black People’s Convention
SRC – Students representative Council
SASM – Southern African Students’ Movement
AASU – All-Africa Students’ Union