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June 16, 1976 Students Uprising

JUNE 16 BANNER

THE JUNE 16 UPRISING: A CHICKEN IN EVERYONE’S POT

By Nelvis Qekema

8 June 2016

Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.
– Amilcar Cabral

Introduction

On the occasion of the June 16 Uprising 40th Anniversary, I seek to revisit the vexing issue of which, as I suggest, has since become a chicken in everyone’s pot. My objective is to examine the claims by organisations like the PAC and the ANC that the June 16 Uprising was their “brainchild”, or simply that they were the ones that planned, instigated and directed the Uprising.

One of the most important objectives of the liberation struggle is the rewriting of history, which tends to be one of the first casualties in being distorted by the enemy, or the white settler-minority regime in the case of Azania. I will examine some literature relating to this issue, as well as some speeches made by the leaders of these organisations with regards to the June 16 Uprising. Because the PAC relies heavily on the 1978 Bethal Trial to “prove” its claims that it was “behind” the June 16 Uprising, I will make an attempt to examine this particular case. I will counterbalance the scale by bringing to the fore a case – The Soweto Eleven Trial – that is less talked about, and has therefore become somewhat obscure.

To say I am revisiting this topic, I mean I engaged it in my essay The June 16 Uprising, Unshackled: A Black Perspective (2010), which was published by the Pambazuka Pan-African magazine. I must confess that I wrote that essay tongue-in-cheek because I maintained that the June 16 Uprising is a national liberation struggle heritage that belongs to the people of Azania. However, the problem with that narrative is that it robs the June 16 Uprising of its revolutionary content, ideological drive and political direction.

A true narrative should accurately capture the political, ideological and institutional dynamics of the time. Doing so does not diminish the fact that the June 16 Uprising is a national heritage and a political reference of the Azanian Revolution for the reconquest of the land and total liberation. To minimise the effect of my strong views in my 2010 essay, I have since written another essay, Black Consciousness and Pan Africanism: Solidarity and Synergies for Liberation (2014), wherein I expose the futility of the destructive competition between the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the Pan Afrikanist Movement (PAM). By PAM I refer not to a specific organisation, but to all the organisations that subscribe to Pan Afrikanism.

I could not help noticing that there are mountains and mountains of work done just to try and show that the BCM had no clue of what was taking place in itself and about itself. Accordingly, claims are made that the BCM was being used either by the ANC and PAC to achieve their own political ends. My findings are that the primary reasoning advanced by these organisations to support their claims is that they had underground networks in the 1970s. Yet literature, and of course history, reveals that these networks were in their formative stages and way too fragile to “capture” a concretely established BCM‘s institutional network and firm political and ideological grounding. One’s frustration is the silence of BCM leaders who are in fact primary sources that were actually involved during the period in contestation. Their counterparts who have since joined the ANC are quite vocal in assisting the ANC to attempt to “capture” the BCM.

Having said that, let me carry on in the spirit of the revolutionary project to rewrite history and defend the truth.

Was the PAC “behind” the June 16 Uprising?

Let us from the onset invite PAC leaders and sympathetic writers thereto to try and answer this question. In a speech to observe the June 16 Uprising, PAC co-founder Phillip Kgosana warn that “it is important to set the record straight because we are aware that there is a concerted effort to distort the history of our struggle at every opportunity particularly since 1994” (Lest We Forget: June 16 1976 and the Bethal Trial, 22 June 2011). It is responsible of Kgosana to make that principled point given how white supremacy and colonialism has distorted the history, humanity and spirituality of black people in Afrika as a whole. To his credit, he does indeed set the record straight as to the build-up activities that fermented the June 16 Uprising:

The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) had been building strength on the campuses of our universities for years since 1967 with a straight confrontation between the black students and the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). The emergence of SASO and its revolutionary stance on campuses shook the pillars of apartheid and it was clear that there was no going back for the black youths. The black power salute was visible both in the rural and urban areas as black consciousness surfaced with anger and frustration in the 1970s (Ibid).

Thus far even the PAC stalwart gives the BCM a deserved credit for being responsible for conscientisation, politicisation and mobilisation of the black masses towards the June 16 Uprising. Indeed, this is rare honesty in the liberation movement where competition forces political organisations to adopt the habits of the enemy of distorting history. It is encouraging that Kgosana also tells us that:

Clandestine meetings between Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko were held in May 1975 where the Prof assured Biko of full support for the youth revolution which was impending (Ibid).

Kgosana is not telling us where the “clandestine meetings” were held; and who visited who. Perhaps that is not important for the purpose of his speech. He also does not tell us what Biko may have said in this meeting. To be sure, he does tell us that “the Prof assured Biko of full support for the youth revolution which was impending”. If the “impending youth revolution” was a reference to the June 16 Uprising, as we must conclude, then we are advised that the June 16 Uprising was being planned as early as 1975. We are also told that Biko knew about this planning. Because Sobukwe only “assured” Biko of “full support for the impending” June 16 Uprising, we can safely deduce that it is Biko who may have revealed the news of the June 16 Uprising prior planning and request for support from Sobukwe and the PAC. But this would be an awkward piece of information because Biko never made any hint anywhere about the BCM‘s planning of the June 16 Uprising.

He only died about 15 months after the Uprising, yet he did not find occasion to even indirectly boast about his involvement in this grand planning. On the contrary, all the BCM leaders maintain that the June 16 Uprising was never really planned. It was merely a combination of socio-political factors converging to ferment the Uprising under the leadership and direction of the BCM. We may add that not even Sobukwe made any hint about the existence of that “clandestine meeting” and what was discussed therein. Perhaps we are asking too much of the two persons that were banned during that time to have left some kind of a record of their meeting even if through some people who could vouch that they were told by the two leaders. I mean I have searched literature and found no evidence of somebody who has said Sobukwe or Biko said this to me about the matter in examination. I have not given up hope that I may still find that evidence.

But Biko himself lays to rest the notion that he was involved in any planning of the June 16 Uprising; or that he may have had any discussion in “May 1975” with anybody including Sobukwe about either the planning of the June 16 Uprising or any “impending youth revolution” whatsoever. In a 1977 interview Biko is asked, among other things, to comment on the June 16 Uprising. Like the thoughtful revolutionary he was, he observes that, “There are lessons to be gleaned from this whole unrest situation of last year. In the first instance, I think blacks have flexed their muscles a bit…” (Aelred Stubbs, 2004:167). Next he delivers the fatal blow to all theories and legends about the planning of the June 16 Uprising in “1975” or before as alleged by the PAC:

I am of the view that any recurrence of disturbance of that nature can only result in more careful planning and better calculation, thereby achieving the desired results than this spontaneous situation we had last year, for instance (Ibid: 168).

Even though Biko has himself buried all legends and fabrications about him and the June 16 Uprising, let us still listen to some people still trying peddle these legends and fabrications. Of interest is that Kgosana also tells us that:

In 1977 uncle Zeph and 17 others were charged of terrorism in the Bethal regional court. It was alleged that at a meeting in May 1976 Uncle Zeph said that plans were being made for riots in which school children would stone and burn school buildings leading to a country wide revolution (Ibid).

Because Kgosana reveals in the same speech that Zeph Mothopeng also had “clandestine meetings” with Sobukwe in “May 1975”, exactly the same time as Sobukwe had meetings with Biko, we may suspect that he also knew about the “impending youth revolution” despite our taking this whole thing with a grain of salt. However, it is somewhat puzzling that Kgosana does not lend any more corroborative information other than what he says Mothopeng was alleged to have said. It is not unfair to expect him to share knowledge of the “impending youth revolution” as was alleged of Mothopeng. Maybe this will be clearer later.

Like Kgosana, Dr Motsoko Pheko expresses commitment to the liberation struggle project to defend the truth and rewrite history:

As we mark the 36th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, it is important that suppressed facts and truth about this inspiring history of political bravery and heroism by the youth of this country are revealed and recorded for posterity and for humanity in general (June 16 Soweto Uprising as Told in Court, 30 June 2012).

With that seemingly principled assurance we have reason to believe that Pheko will overcome subjectivities that entangled Kgosana. Rather disappointingly, here goes Pheko:

“You Mothopeng, acted to sow seeds of anarchy and revolution. The riots you engineered and predicted eventually took place in Soweto on June 16 and at Kagiso the next day.” These are the words of Judge Curlewis in the Supreme Court of South Africa in a secret court hearing on 1 July 1979. He was sentencing to imprisonment for the Soweto Uprising (June 16) the following accused Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leaders and members… (Ibid)

Triumphantly, Pheko repeats his sentiments so that nobody misses the point:

In the Supreme Court of South Africa at Bethal, Judge Curlewis found for the apartheid regime’s prosecution in 1979, that the Pan Africanist Congress played a leading role in the Soweto Uprising which erupted on 16 June 1976. Evidence before Judge Curlewis showed that the PAC organised and fixed the date on the Soweto Uprising (Ibid).

You would be forgiven if you thought that the PAC won the Bethal case. Also, you would be forgiven if you thought that the “evidence” that Pheko boasts about, which was used to convict the “PAC leaders and members”, came from the PAC. You should be wrong-footed by Pheko’s positive and welcoming references to this white racist Judge who used the anti-black laws to deprive freedom fighters of their freedom. It has to be disappointing for a leader of Pheko’s calibre to rely on two schoolboy state witnesses’ evidence alleging that Mothopeng and the PAC planned and execute the June 16 Uprising. It is unfortunate that people seem to conveniently forget that much of the evidence adduced at the various “political trials” was gained either through torture of the activists, or some activists were forced into becoming state witnesses to falsely implicate their own comrades.

Like we have done with Kgosana, it cannot be unfair to have expected Pheko to go further than the state witness’ “evidence” and provide first-hand information of how the PAC planned and executed the June 16 Uprising. Pheko does not seem to have much more to offer in this regard. He goes back to the apartheid courts and once more boasts that the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court apparently vindicated Judge Curlewis:

It [Appellate Division] affirmed the judgement of Justice Curlewis when among other things, he said, “It should be clear that these incidents are not something the witness invented or that he can invent nor is there a reason to do so. The details of the incident and their sequence the contents of what was told he did not suck this out of his thumb. No matter how desirous he was of being released and getting indemnity (Ibid).

The state witness that is referred to here, and that strangely impresses Pheko, is one Enoch Mngomezulu who joined the PAC in its founding in 1959. Jaki Seroke tells us that he was the first state witness, and:

… was seen during breaks getting briefings from security branch police. He was the Zondi branch person in 1959. In 1962 he was found with a name list of underground leaders in the Transvaal, leading to mass arrests. He then served six years in prison from 1963. He admitted to betraying the leadership’s trust in him. He formed a faction to divide the Party with Selby Ngendane in prison. Mngomezulu blatantly sold out Sam Malinga and John Ganya to the police (The Secret Bethal Trial – Revisited, 15 June 2014).

Unlike Pheko, Seroke is obviously not impressed by the sellout Mngomezulu. In this in camera Bethal Trial Mngomezulu was part of the 165 state witnesses. A considerable chunk of these state witnesses were PAC underground members. Unfortunately, reading of the proceedings of the Bethal Trial does not bring out concrete and decisive connection of the PAC with planning and executing the June 16 Uprising. The starting point is that reference to the trialists as all “leaders and members” of the PAC is misleading.

A number of the accused that were later convicted and sentenced to serve time on Robben Island were in fact members of the BCM that had nothing to do with the PAC. Some of those were Molatlhegi Tlhale, Zolile Ghost Ndindwa and Tenki Julius Landingwe. They kept on being loyal to the BCM even in Prison. On their release they joined AZAPO and served on various leadership positions. It is not clear to me why the vast literature I went through does not acknowledge this fact.

As a matter of fact, the evidence advanced at the Bethal Trial against mainly the PAC underground members had more to do with incriminating people who were deemed by the state to “further the aims of a banned organisation”. That is the long and short of it. The evidence details how Mothopeng started being on the wrong side of the apartheid laws when he landed on Robben Island in 1964 and tried to reorganise the PAC in prison.

He conducted political education on the line of the PAC, which was again in violation of the apartheid laws. He found the PAC on Robben Island badly divided to the extent that there occasionally were physical fights. Mlamli Makwetu is said to have led the POQO faction that wanted to hear nothing about communism, while there was a “Selby Ngendane administration” that insisted on reorganising the PAC in prison into “local, regional and national” structures.

According to the evidence, the situation normalised a bit with the arrival of John Pokela in “early 1967” – the same year that Mothopeng was released. State witness Mngomezulu revealed that after he was released he met Mothopeng on a train from Soweto to Johannesburg in November 1974. They met again in early 1975 in the train where Mothopeng told him he that “he intended reviving the PAC now that the neighbouring territories were about to get their independence”.

Your attention is drawn to the statement that in early 1975 Mothopeng was “intending” to revive the PAC. By this time the BCM enjoyed a comprehensive existence in the country in terms of a large network of community organisations including trade unions that led national strikes. Among other things, the BCM organised the 1973 general Strike of workers. In 1974 it organised the Viva Frelimo Rallies, which led to the SASO/BPC Trial where Steve Biko was the defence witness.

It is only much later in time that Mothopeng asks Mngomezulu to find him two persons who can serve as underground couriers. He sends some recruits to Swaziland and later to Botswana. He works particularly around Kagiso. Yes, he attends some activities of the BCM. But there is no evidence led at the Bethal Trial that suggests that he infiltrated the BCM structures or captured the leadership of any BCM structure. There is none whatsoever. Both the court of first instance and the appeal courts accepted Mngomezulu’s evidence to convict Mothopeng for “furthering the aims of a banned organisation”. But it is some Kagiso youths who turned state witnesses who successfully framed Mothopeng and implicated him in the unrest in Kagiso. Seroke recorded it this way:

Young Masupatsela High students testified against Uncle Zeph and Mike Mike Matsobane. Adam Kunupi and Papuis Rasegomela Seroka both gave evidence that at a meeting organised by Matsobane in Kagiso around April 1976 Uncle Zeph briefed the more than fifteen participants on the impending strikes that would be started by school children and spread throughout the country. The PAC would take over the leadership of stay-away and boycotts to weaken the economy. The date was not fixed for these uprisings but an alarm would ring. This will be the beginning of the end of for white rule. The witnesses told the court that Mike Matsobane in closing the meeting said the tree of liberation is watered by blood (Ibid).

This is the dubious evidence upon which the court relied to link Mothopeng and the PAC to having planned and executed the June 16 Uprising. You will do well to remember that this was “impending youth revolution” for which Sobukwe is alleged to have offered full support to Biko at the “May 1975 clandestine meeting”. And it is only a year (April 1975) after that “clandestine meeting” that Mothopeng approached Mngomezulu with an “intention to revive” the PAC underground network. Around the same time there is turmoil in the PAC in exile, which led to the need for Pokela to eventually take over in 1981 from Potlako Leballo who was now accused of disorganising the PAC in exile.

Granted this background, the question is whether the PAC did have the capacity to plan and execute the June 16 Uprising around the same time it was struggling and making bold attempts to build? Worse still, would the PAC be in a position to “weaken the economy” and be in charge of the June 16 Uprising without any influence to the leadership of SASM, the SSRC and the BCM as a whole? The best suited person to answer this question is Tsietsi Mashinini, the unquestionable leader of SASM and the SSRC that actually mobilised the students and initiated all the meetings before, during and after the Uprising. In 1977 Mashinini had an interview with the Intercontinental Press (Behind the Growing Upsurge in South Africa, 15 March 1977), which went as follows:

Question: Do you have any connections with the ANC or PAC?
Mashinini: I will tell you something. The ANC and PAC played their part in the South Africa struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. Right now there are ex-members of the ANC in whole of South Africa. But they are not politically active, that is, have the concept of perpetuating the activity of the ANC or PAC political ideology. As far as the students in South Africa are concerned, the ANC and PAC are extinct internally. Externally we are aware they exist. Internally they are doing no work. There may be some underground work which we are not aware of, but as far as the struggle is concerned they are not doing anything.

Question: Do you think there is a different political outlook between the old movements, the ANC and PAC, and the Black Consciousness Movement?
Mashinini: Yes there is. There were a number of clashes between ANC and BCM leaders, because the ANC leaders did not want to recognize the BCM as a liberation movement.
Question: Why didn’t they want to recognize BCM?

Mashinini: They do not want to understand why BCM was formed when ANC was the liberation movement. But ANC was banned inside the country, so a new liberation front had to come.

This somehow exposes the bankruptcy and malice of the likely manufactured evidence by the Kagiso Youth that led to Mothopeng’s conviction. Seroke has already told us that state witness Mngomezulu was in the company of apartheid police during the breaks of the Trial. Actually, defence Advocate Wilson brought that anomaly to the Judge that was not bothered at all. The gist of his protest was that police were coaching the state witnesses. This was the order of the day during the reign of the apartheid regime. State witnesses were planted in political organisations and instructed to take up membership of an overt political organisation in which some of them operated as agent provocateurs.

Freedom fighters were falsely framed and convicted. Most freedom fighters who were convicted by the apartheid courts may attest as to how they were falsely framed. Mosibudi Mangena (1989) has shared how two undercover policemen boarded the train from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and ended up in the same compartment as his. They indulged in normal conversation to kill time throughout the journey. At his destination he was arrested on the false charge of recruiting policemen for military training. The two gentlemen were state witnesses. He was convicted and sentenced to 5 years on Robben Island for something he never did. There are hundreds other freedom fighters who were so falsely framed.

One writer who has critically studied political trials under the apartheid era is Michael Lobban. He dotted his findings in a book with a telling title, White Man’s Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era (1996) Ali Khangela Hlongwane tells us that Lobban was “sceptical” of the Kagiso youths’ evidence that led to the linking by the court of Mothopeng to the June 16 Uprising. He writes that Lobban:

… observes that the evidence for Mothopeng’s direct involvement with the youth of Kagiso, such as that of the youth who claimed that Mothopeng had said that the riots and school stay-aways were to start simultaneously and that there should be attempts to cripple the South African economy, involve a ‘stretch of credibility’ (Reflections on the Pan Africanist Congress ‘Underground’ in the Era of the 1976 Youth Uprisings, 2009).

Anyone who is curious to see that the Bethal Trial was the usual apartheid farce, needs to get hold of its record of proceedings. A number of the exhibits were confiscated documents of the PAC, some of which were banned for possession. A van de Merwe of the Rand Afrikaanse University testified as an expert on the liberation organisations and communism. He also testified at the SASO/BPC Trial. This is how he partly performed under cross-examination:

Adv Wilson: Have you given evidence on the PAC before?
v/d Merwe: No
Adv Wilson: Have you written anything on the PAC?
v/d Merwe: No
Adv Wilson: You have not published anything on the PAC?
v/d Merwe: I have not published anything.

Another defence counsel took the cross examination further:

Adv Pitman: I am going to put my point crisply to the witness and then – what I want to suggest to you is that as an expert on the PAC that you will have to concede that you know of no PAC activities insofar – which was started with written material, of no PAC activities in South Africa at all, at all in the last 10 or 15 years.
v/d Merwe: Again as I say, as far as documents which one can really bring down to the PAC is concerned, that is true.

This notwithstanding, this “expert” made his contribution in nailing down the Bethal Trialists.

After all is said and done, let us try and once more invite Pheko (2012) and hear how he comes across now. This time around he is summoning another stalwart for endorsement:

Commenting on the Bethal trial of 18, AP Mda lawyer and political scientist wrote, “Mothopeng will go down in the history of South Africa as the leader who orchestrated the Soweto Uprising in 1976. He operated quietly from his private quarters in Soweto right under the nose of apartheid security police.

With that said, it is not unlikely that you are beginning to ask yourself what has Mothopeng said about the things that have been said about him. Very much like in the case of Sobukwe and Biko, I have not been so fortunate as to stumble on any piece of document where Mothopeng writes about alleged planning and leadership of the June 16 Uprising. Though he would have compromised himself if he talked and wrote about it before the conclusion of the Bethal Trial, he surely was at liberty to detail his alleged involvement himself.

The document I managed to lay my hands on is an autobiographical piece he is said to have written while in prison. It was published in Searchlight South Africa, Vol 1, No 2, February 1989. It is written in the first person, and I have noticed that most of the biographies about him are based on this document. He is said to have been seriously ill during that time. There is no mention in that document of any activities related to the June 16 Uprising. He does however state that “there were many riots which took place due to PAC activities during 1962-63 at King Williamstown, Paarl near Cape Town and in Johannesburg”.

I rest my case.

Was the ANC “Behind” the June 16 Uprising?

I am of the view that I have dealt with the ANC question at length in The June 16 Uprising Unshackled. But there is no harm giving it at least a passing mention in this attempt.

With its massive resources and international connections, the ANC outshines the PAC in making claims on the June 16 Uprising. Their vicious strategy is to get some primary sources that they managed to win into their ranks to directly make the claims that the BCM and the June 16 Uprising were “captured” by the ANC. Just look at commissioned and heavily funded projects like Sarafina by Mbongeni Ngema. This arts-based project was supposed to keep the June 16 legacy alive by way of packaging the story in a form of performed entertainment. But apart from the beautiful singing and dancing and its linking it to Nelson Mandela in the end, there was very little content to bring to life the politics and leaders of the time like Steve Biko, Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Seatlholo.

Here is an example of the whitewash one is talking about. In their contribution to the Road to Democracy in South Africa project, Gregory Houston and Bernard Magubane have a chapter titled The ANC Political Underground (p371-451). They record an interview with Timothy Williams who has since joined the ANC:

I only learnt later about some of the people who were inside the country, who were ANC, were in SASM… People like Roller [Masinga], Super Moloi, those people, Billy Masetlha, those people. I only became aware when they themselves had to leave the country. Then I became aware they had been in contact with people like Joe Gqabi and so on … a bigger group, who were not aware that the influence in there had become ANC. Initially these organisations, they were just Black Consciousness. BC politics – being black and proud, anti-white and so on. Very shallow. But then the ANC was working, not only through us in Botswana, but through Swaziland, and through the people who were coming out from prison, from the Island, in the same formations. So we would be doing something not aware that somebody else was doing something else … I became aware when some of those people came to Botswana … that there was an ANC influence. It was apparent but we didn’t know (p380).

This is a former BC activist trying very hard to show how directionless the BCM was; and how infiltrated it was by the ANC. According to him, the BCM was “very shallow” and “anti-white”. He seems to me “very shallow” to deserve a response. But his project crumbles when he himself says, “I became aware when some of those people came to Botswana … that there was an ANC influence. It was apparent but we didn’t know.”

Houston and Magubane (p373) tell a story of Joyce Skikakane who was also an ANC underground operative in the 1960s and 1970s after she was released from prison. Apparently, “One of her immediate tasks was to link up with the leaders of the newly formed … SASO“. We are told that Sikakane met “Steve Biko, Rick Turner and Griffiths Mxenge” at a 1971 meeting in Durban to discuss “how to take things forward”. As is always the case with these ghost stories, we are not told what Biko said. Sikakane is quoted as saying that “Steve Biko really sought out the ANC activists, plus the leadership. There is here a subtle implication that Biko was an operative of the ANC underground network. Yet Biko is extremely critical of the ANC in his writings and some interviews. To see that Sikakane does not need to be afforded serious attention, check out what Houston and Magubane share about her interview with them:

Sikakane also claims that before she left the country she ‘formed cells in Soweto’. Although these were not official ANC cells, they comprised people such as Nkosazana Dlamini (now Dlamini-Zuma), Mamphele Ramphele, Brigitte Mabandla and Tabile Nqubeka (now Mangena, and Sikakane used the cells to advocate ‘the ANC cause’. She left the country in 1972 after receiving information from the External Mission to leave the country because ‘we were going to be detained. And they sent a woman to come and tell me this. And they said Steve Biko should be out. This girl went to tell Steve. Steve refused to go. Harry Nengwekhulu had to be out. Barney Pityana had to be out. They resisted, but eventually Barney Pityana left, and harry Nengwekhulu left. But Steve flatly refused. And I left (p373).’

For those who may not know, the Thabile Mangena who is said to have belonged to an ANC-related “women cells” is a committed leader of AZAPO who is also the lifelong partner of Mosibudi Mangena. The couple left the country in 1981 on AZAPO‘s instruction to go and contribute in the building of the BCMA in exile. Mangena became the Chairperson of the BCMA and Commander-in-Chief of the AZANLA Forces in exile. Together with her husband, Thabile of the exiled BCMA returned to the country in 1994 and became active in AZAPO activities till today.

Sikakane cleverly insinuate that BCM leaders like Biko, Pityana and Nengwekhulu were under ANC underground operatives. Take note of how the “girl” carries an ANC “External Mission” to Biko, Pityana and Nengwekhulu who all initially disobey the instruction. Surely Sikakane does not have much explanation to do if the “girl” remains nameless. Anyway, we now know that Nengwekhulu and Pityana left the country at the instruction of the ANC “External Mission”, yet they joined the BCM in exile even though Pityana later left the BCM. But Nengwekhulu remained a BCM leader in exile and on his return to the country till today.

There are volumes of work containing spurious claims about the “capturing” of the BCM and the June 16 Uprising by the ANC. The few are used here are meant to give a clue of how the propaganda in question was done.

Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu has also made his own contribution in Road to Democracy in South Africa in the chapter titled The Soweto Uprising (p336). ANC President Oliver Tambo is quoted from his 1985 input, Black Consciousness and the Soweto Uprising:

This uprising of 1976-77 was, of course, the historic watershed… Within a short period of time it propelled into the forefront of our struggle millions of young people… It brought to midst comrades many of whom had very little contact with the ANC, if any… Organisationally, in political and military terms, we were too weak to take advantage of the situation that crystallised from the first events of 16 June 1976. We had very few active units inside the country. We had no military presence to speak of. The communication links between ourselves outside the country and the masses of our people were still too slow and weak to meet such (a challenge) as was posed by the Soweto uprising (The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2: 1970-1980).

Despite all the voluminous claims about planning and executing the June 16 Uprising, the Commander-in-Chief of Mkhonto Wesizwe is kind enough to confess that the ANC was taken by surprise and completely not ready for the June 16 Uprising. But Tambo would not have been a “loyal and dedicated member of the ANC” if he did not say this:

The participation of the comrades [Joe Gqabi, Henry Makgothi, John Nkadimeng, Robert Manci, etc] we have spoken about, in assisting to guide the Soweto uprising, once more emphasised the vital necessity for us to have a leadership core within the country, known by us and in touch with the people, dedicated, brave with clear perspectives and thus able to lead.

While everyone accepts Tsietsi Mashinini as the undisputed leader of the June 16 Uprising, in an undated and unsigned document in the ANC archives at the University of Fort Hare, the ANC implies that Mashinini could be a “counter-revolutionary” and an agent of the enemy of the people. Biko was at some stage cast in the same light. The ANC may have been angered by Mashinini‘s views on the ANC, and his distancing of the June 16 Uprising from the ANC. The document reads:

The thesis of this paper is that in Mshinini counter-revolutionary forces have recognized an individual they can exploit for their own ends, to confuse supporters of the just struggle for liberation of the people of South Africa, and to weaken the African National Congress both internationally and amongst the recent escapes… As Mashinini has not hesitated to attack the ANC, he has laid himself open to being used by those who are, for one reason or another, hostile to the organization which expresses the true aspirations of the oppressed people of South Africa.

In an undated essay with the title Whither the Black Consciousness Movement?, Nelson Mandela has undertaken a critical analysis of the BCM. I would encourage people to read this document. The O’Marley website has qualified it with the words “Pre-Transition (1902-1989) – The Struggle – Reflections in Prison”. Mandela may have been reflecting on the sentiments contained in the quote above where he wrote:

Critics vehemently protest that the BCM should not be raised to anything higher than a mere patrol to scout the terrain, investigate the deployment of enemy forces and to harass its weaker units. It is also said that, although full of fight, it is barely equipped ideologically, that in the past it made headway simply because it was the only legal movement in black politics in the country and received solid encouragement and support from older organisations, that behind it was a seasoned liberation movement that has been in the field of battle for decades and whose growing army is now beginning to strike deep into enemy territory.

Contrary to the “critics” whose prejudices and hostility he has summarised above, Mandel sees the BCM differently:

Three important points about the BCM already stand out in this short sketch: a shrewd plan, a powerful ideology and an able youth leadership. Certainly the founders of the BCM provided that movement with an impressive structure, and in a country where blacks are hungry for political power and where the practice of racism affects every aspect of their lives, the Black Power ideology is still likely to be a potent weapon. The ideology must have been chosen with the firm belief that it would appeal to Africans, Indians and Coloureds from all walks of life, to educationists, professionals and businessmen, the clergy, students, workers and people from the countryside. The whole plan set the stage for a powerful youth movement, which would make a significant contribution to black politics, fill the vacuum created by the banning of older organisations and prepare the ground for revolutionary forms of struggle.

I disagree, though, with the notion of the BCM filling a vacuum. There are no vacuums in history, but phases. The BCM was not holding the fort for somebody else. It was in the BCM of liberating black people and the country. In his “prison reflections” ranging from 1902 1989, Mandela seems to know nothing about all the “capturing” of the BCM and the June 16 Uprising. He fully acknowledges the role played by the BCM in inspiring and leading the June 16 Uprising. He even acknowledges Mashinini‘s role as the leader of the SSRC and the June 16 Uprising.

The BCM, Where Art Though?

For the purposes of this work I have no intention labour hard proving that the June 16 Uprising took place under the influence, direction and leadership of the BCM. Those that have an obligation to do so are the ones that seek to disprove that historical fact. History has recorded that the BCM did not split from any other historical organisation. It was an original movement that was the product of the political circumstances of the time. There is no record that Biko was ever a member of any other organisation before he and his comrades formed the BCM. Biko did not join the BCM. He was the Founding father of the BCM.

There have been futile attempts to suggest that Biko was taught politics by his brother Khaya. What these people forget is that Khaya was born March 1945, while Biko was born in December 1946. The age difference was about one year. So you are here talking almost about twins. That Khaya was an active of member of the PAC while Biko was not, does not mean Biko knew nothing about politics. Political consciousness does not necessarily originate with the direct association of an individual with a political organisation. As a matter of fact, Biko was arrested together with his brother at the Lovedale College.

Another attempt at “capturing” the BCM, Biko and the June 16 Uprising is the legend that Biko walked into a room where Sobukwe was and exclaimed that “Tyhini! noThixo ulapha” (Phew! Even God is here). Both Benjamin Pogrund (1997) and Xolela Mangcu (2012) make reference to this legend. I am saying it is a legend because Pogrund who originated the legend is not telling us where did this take place and around which time. He is not telling us where he got this legend from. To say this is a legend is not to suggest that it is a lie, nor am I saying it is a fact. All one is saying is that this legend is used to reduce Sobukwe’s relationship with Biko as that of a tutor/student. Yet there is no evidence that the two leaders had such a relationship. Putting the relationship in perspective is not to deny Sobukwe’s seniority. One is merely advising that Sobukwe’s greatness as a leader does not need validation by the manufacturing of a distorted relationship with Biko.

In a 1972 interview with Gail Gerhart, Biko tells us how highly he regards Sobukwe. Certainly not as “God”:

I have never heard him express an opinion about the details of the ideology, which makes him again a very admirable guy (Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko: 2008:32).

Those who are fond of drawing conclusions from associations tend to be reluctant to recall the fact that Abram Ramothibi Tiro was Tsietsi Mashinini‘s history teacher at Isaac Morrison High School. Incidentally, Mashinini‘s father was Ramothibi, while Tiro inherited the name from his uncle.

Here is another discomforting fact. While people exclusively refer to the Bethal Trial (S v Mothopeng & Others), which has by now become clear that it had virtually nothing to do with the June 16 Uprising, there was in fact a trial that ran side by side with the Bethal Trial. It is known as the Soweto Eleven Trial (S v Twala & Others). These were the direct leaders of the June 16 Uprising. They did not lead from “underground”. They led on the ground. They were members of the BCM‘s students structures SASM and the SSRC. They are the people who politicised the students and imbued them with the BC philosophy. They are Wilson Twala, Dan Montsitsi, Seth Mazibuko, Murphy Morobe, Jefferson Lengane, Thabo Ndabeni, Reginald Mngomezulu, Sibongile Mthembu, (now Mkhabela), Sello Khiba, Hennedy Mogami and George Twala.

The record of the proceedings in the Soweto 11 Trial talks exactly about the June 16 Uprising – not indirect underground activities that had nothing to do with it. They were sentenced for sedition. They were not framed. They were in fact directly involved in inspiring and leading the June 16 Uprising. In the Law Report of the Soweto 11 Trial paragraph states that, “In the indictment it is alleged, inter alia, that a conspiracy existed between SASM/the action committee and/or the SSRC.” Judge Van Dyk ruled:

On the admitted, proven and undisputed evidence before me, I am satisfied that the gathering on 16 June 1976 was a seditious one. As far as the criminal liability of any of the accused in regard to this demonstration is concerned… I turn now to the Soweto Student’s Representative Council. To sum up then; I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused have, either their conspiratorial association with one or more of the organizations or persons mentioned in the indictment, or by their individual involvement, committed the following acts of sedition…

This case is cited not to boast that the Judge ruled in the manner he did, but to demonstrate that the accused in this case were indeed members and leaders of the BCM who were actually involved in the fermentation of the June 16 Uprising.

For the sake of irony, I invite Mandela to show why and how it was possible for the BCM to carry out a revolutionary project as gigantic and historic as the June 16 Uprising:

Preparing a master plan and applying it are two different things. All over the world Utopian programmes are a common feature of many organisations. Perhaps many critics may have dismissed the BCM as no more than a movement of this type and its ideology of Black Power as a false dream. They may have reasoned that the enemy which had given stronger and more experienced organisations a rough time was too powerful, and that it would easily put out the new fires that were beginning to lick our shores.

But the BCM quickly advanced beyond plan-making and took a bold initiative on a wide front. It began attracting attention and forced many people to take sides. Barely six years after its appearance it had made quite an impact and SASO, the driving force behind the whole movement, had won the respect of progressive opinion here and in many parts of the world. No other movement since the emergence of MK had caught the imagination of the youth as the BCM had done, undertaken so many positive mass projects, conducted its campaign with such enduring aggression and handled such a big budget.

The contribution of the BCM is even more striking if we bear in mind that when it was launched the enemy had become ruthless in dealing with its opponents; that many activists had been jailed, killed in detention, confined to certain areas or had fled the country; that the liberation movement was seriously crippled and mass political activity had been stamped out (Ibid).

I propose to drop the pen by sharing the words of an ordinary teacher during 1976. Fikile Ngcobo is interviewed by Ndlovu (Ibid:329):

… Anybody … saying ‘this is wrong’ would have been aligned with being within, bringing a political ideology of the Black Consciousness Movement into the classroom. The ANC was banned, you wouldn’t hear of the ANC then; there was just no ANC. Whatever happened, happened under the ambit of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Aluta Continua!

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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