Youth and the National Liberation Struggle

Related articles

Cape Schools Join the Revolt

The school students in Cape Town reacted to the news they heard of events in Soweto. A teacher at one of the Coloured schools was later to write: 'We haven't done much by way of teaching since the Soweto riots first began. Kids were restless, tense and confused. 'There is no similar record of what the African children thought, but it is known that they were aware of the extra police patrols that were set up in the townships following June 16. After the first shootings in Cape Town, a teacher at one of the schools recounted:

.. . pupils from Fezeka and I.D. Mkize [Secondary Schools in Guguletu Township] used their schools at night for studying because these schools had electricity. During the Soweto unrest the police surrounded these schools so that the pupils could not use them properly. . . . They were stopped from studying at night.

There were some incidents within a week of the first Soweto massacre: on 24 June the principal's office at Hiargisi Primary School in Nyanga was burnt out and on the following day the riot squad was on standby at Langa when a crowd threatened officials of the Bantu Administration. On 27 June there were further arson attacks at the Langa post-office and at Zimosa school. The police officer in command issued a statement saying that the events had no connection with events in Soweto. July was vacation time in South Africa, and schools reassembled just before August. On 6 August the Hewat Teacher Training College in Athlone was set alight in solidarity with the UWC boycotters, on the 8th, fire destroyed classrooms and the principal's office at Struts Bay (east of Cape Town), and on 10 August there was increased activity another unsuccessful attempt to burn down buildings at Hewat, a prefabricated building that was part of the Peninsula College for Advanced Technical Education was gutted, and there were three explosions at Die Goeiehoop (Goodhope) Primary School in Cape Town.

Sometime in early August African pupils had also decided that some demonstration in sympathy with Soweto was necessary. The pupils of Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu were in communication and it was decided to march together on Wednesday 11 August.

Reports from several sources seem to indicate that the decision had not been widely circulated and that plans were vague. Themba Nolutshungu, a youth organiser with the South African Institute of Race Relations reported that pupils at Langa High School met on the sports fields in the early morning.
Speaker after speaker could be seen gesticulating, obviously striving to hammer a point home. A distinct feature of the meeting was the fact that participation in the actual discussion was neither confined to nor monopolised by a recognised clique.
They refused to enter the school and after congregating marched out on to the streets bearing placards that declared solidarity with the students of Soweto.
At another school, this time in Guguletu, a teacher described the scene as follows:
The students marched towards our school singing softly, Nkosi Sikelel' i Afrika. It was really touching when they sang. They were marching quietly around the school to the parade ground where the school conducts its prayers. Two girls came forward and spoke to a teacher, saying: 'Good morning, sir. We have come to ask permission to get together and pray for Soweto.' They were directed to the principal. . . .'
They did not get the required permission, but the pupils at the school just left the building and the teachers let them go. The atmosphere, according to the teacher was 'extraordinary. Nobody could speak.'
The student planned to converge, but the students of Gugulethu and Nyanga were dispersed by police with tear gas at least twice, the finally confronted and told to dispersed within eight minutes. The stood firm and were then showered with gas and 25 to 30 were arrested.
Each attack by the police had left them even more resolute and, in one instance, pupils of a school that had been undecided joined the demonstrators after they witnessed the police in action.

After the arrests, the youth re-formed and followed the police to the Guguletu police station and demanded the release of their fellow demonstrators. Bottles of water were passed around and faces doused as a protection against gas. Eventually volunteers met the police and secured the release of the detainees.

The pupils of Langa had in the meanwhile marched through the streets of their township, followed by their teachers who 'were determined to see to it that the demonstration remained orderly'. They were, in turn, followed by riot police, and the entire procession was surrounded by the crowd that had gathered at the school and grew as the group passed through the township. It appears that it was persons in the surrounding crowd who hurled abuse at the police and also started throwing stones at the first bottlestore that was passed. At that stage the students turned round and returned to their school. The stoning then stopped.

The students had gone out of their way to maintain the peace, but the crowds that had gathered were not as restrained. At some stage after the school pupils had stopped marching, the stoning started and the police were quick to respond with gas and with bullets. That unleashed the terror that Soweto had experienced in June. Administrative blocks in the townships were burnt first, then shops and bottlestores. When workers arrived home they joined the demonstrators and more buildings went up in smoke. Some residents blamed the tsotsis and even tried to organise vigilante groups -- but they were dissuaded by other residents.

The shooting carried on well into the night and that day 33 persons were killed and an unknown number injured, according to the Cape Town Commissioner of Police. What was not explained was the fact that the majority of those killed were children, but whether these were part of the group of push-outs or not, is not clear.

Rioting reached a new peak on 12 August. At Langa and Guguletu attempts were made to stop workers leaving for work and. riot squad cars that arrived to stop this action were attacked and damaged. Police fired at the crowd through the mesh windows of the wrecked cars.

In the streets young children (some described as tsotsis) stopped all cars and cried out 'donate, donate', in their demand for petrol to make 'Molotov cocktails'. Cars were only allowed to proceed if the driver gave the Black Power salute and hooted in support.

Later that morning students of the Langa High School marched to the local police station to demand the release of fellow students detained since the demonstration. Shots were fired and one of the students, Xolile Mosi, was killed. The students retreated to their school grounds and stood congregated outside the buildings. Two police helicopters hovered above them and dropped tear gas canisters. The entire student body of Langa High, together with pupils from other schools, again marched to the police station, carrying banners: 'We are not fighting. We have just come to release our people.' While one pupil carrying a white flag, went in to negotiate the release of the arrested, his fellow students stood outside singing hymns. All that happened however after three-quarters of an hour, was the appearance of six policemen with a demand that the demonstrators supply the names of those who had been detained. In Nyanga students and others gathered at a roadblock and were met by a line of police. Dogs were turned on the crowd, tear gas was thrown and, after the crowd responded with stones, the police fired. Three bodies were moved after the demonstrators retreated. On the night of 12 August, any administrative buildings, beerhalls, bottlestores or shops that had not yet been gutted were destroyed. Some R2, 000,000 worth of damage was done in 36 hours of fighting. Students in Cape Town also marched on 12 August. The University of Cape Town provided one group that marched towards the centre of town, giving the Black Power salute to passing Blacks until stopped by the police. Seventy-three students were arrested. Six hundred coloured students also marched from the Bellville Training College and clashed with baton wielding police and at the UWC a poster parade was broken up by police and banner bearers arrested. The message on the posters were specific: 'Sorry Soweto'; "Kruger is a pig'; 'The revolution is coming'. The storeroom at the Modderdam High School in Bonteheuwel was set alight. On Monday 14 August there were reports of arson in the African townships and on 16 August pupils at the Alexander Sinton High School and the Belgravia High School boycotted classes. One of the slogans of the time in the townships was: 'Once we return to our desks - our cause is lost'. The coloured students concurred.

Separate, Yet Together
For over a month, first the youth, and then the adults, in the coloured townships boycotted, demonstrated and faced police terror. And during that same month, the youth and residents of Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu protested, demonstrated and fought with the police. Two detachments of rebels faced the same central authority, had the same basic demands, and knew that they were allies in the same fight. Youth of both communities even managed to penetrate to the centre of the city in order to demonstrate - but the moves were not co-ordinated and took place on successive days. The physical separation of the two communities, each tied to their respective ghettos, prevented joint action and probably militated against the smooth functioning of a joint committee, described below.

Each community was aware of what was happening in the other townships and events in one centre evoked sympathetic action in the other. In fact, the process was made more complex by the fact that Cape Town was not an island divorced from events elsewhere in the country. They responded to events in the Eastern Cape, where a new focus of revolt had been established in Port Elizabeth and East London (as described later in this chapter); and to events in the North, in Soweto and elsewhere.

On Monday 16 August, 500 students at UWC marched to the Bellville Magistrate's Court where 15 students were appearing on a number of charges arising from recent events. The crowd swelled to 1,000 and were forcibly moved by riot police. The rest of the week was relatively quiet. There was a fire at Arcadia High School in Bonteheuwel on 17 August and a boycott of classes at Somerset West after permission to hold a prayer meeting in sympathy with 'Blacks who have died' was refused.

Two events, not necessarily unrelated, but with different roots, led to the next stage of the Cape revolt. On 22 August the funeral of Xolile Mosi was scheduled to take place in Langa. The magistrate of Wynberg had ordered that the funeral be restricted to parents and close relatives. Mosi's fellow students wanted a mass funeral procession and defied the ban. There was, inevitably, a clash at the graveside and the crowd was dispersed with tear gas. The youth retreated to the school grounds. Yet again they were met by police and once more were saturated with gas. The next day there was a demonstration at Guguletu, called to commemorate the death of another young pupil, Mvuseleli Tleko, aged thirteen. A large crowd gathered and stones were thrown at a bus. Tear gas and a baton charge were used to disperse them. The second event occurred in nearby Bonteheuwel. Students at the three high schools organised a demonstration 'in sympathy with Soweto' on Monday 23 August to coincide with the first day of a general strike called by the SSRC in Johannesburg. The demonstration at one of the schools, the Modderdam High School, was broken up by the riot squad and the next day none of the Bonteheuwel High School students would attend classes. They called for peaceful demonstrations in the school grounds. There had in fact been a transformation over the past few days. On 20 August F.A. Osmany, a reporter, wrote in the Muslim News that after interviewing coloured youth he had found:
Students are emphasising that they are boycotting classes because they want to make people aware of the situation, and that they also want to bring to the notice of everybody what is happening at the University of the Western Cape and at Black schools, and also of the oppression and suffering in South Africa.

We want people to know we are not trying to hamper our own education or disrupt anything. We merely want to voice our dissatisfaction of the educational system.
On 23 August, a statement by the pupils of Athlone High School condemned police brutality, inferior education, segregation laws and the plight of detainees. And they added: 'We wish the people to know that we are prepared to sacrifice everything, our carefully planned careers and aspirations, for the ensurance of a better and more just future. The students who issued that statement might have been a bit ahead of their fellow students elsewhere, but others would come to the same position within the coming days. The police had also changed their tactics. They seemed determined now to move into the schools, seek a confrontation and break the spirit of the youth. A letter by two schoolteachers, written to the London Guardian describes the position at coloured schools from 24 August. Other reports give similar accounts of events in the coloured townships. Their account reads:
On August 24 ... pupils of Bonteheuwel High School held a peaceful demonstration in the school grounds. They carried placards expressing sympathy with fellow scholars in African areas. The atmosphere of the demonstration was jovial rather than aggressive. The Riot Squad arrived in mesh-protected vehicles; they were wearing camouflage battle dress and were armed with shotguns, rifles, and teargas guns. Immediately the principal asked them to leave . . . They ordered him to stand aside. The commanding officer ordered his men to line up and, without warning, tear gas was fired at the children. They were then baton charged.
The children fled but only the boys managed to climb the school fence. The girls, trapped in the grounds, were beaten up by the police. A crowd of protesting parents who gathered in the area were forced to flee from the returning Riot Squad. 'Fleeing was the only defence the people had against the guns of the Riot Squad; stone throwing their only means of expressing their anger and pain.'

For three days the unequal fight continued. The police set up ambushes to draw the crowds into the streets and then peppered them with buckshot. Many were left severely wounded or dead. On Wednesday 30 August about 600 students from five secondary schools decided to march to Bonteheuwel. On the way they were confronted by four riot squad vans. A reporter on the Muslim News described what happened:
Some students appealed for calm as they did not want to provoke police action. Meanwhile a member of the riot squad read out something to the students which was incomprehensible.
According to some students on the scene the riot squad aimed tear gas canisters at the students before the order to disperse was given. One student said, 'They did not release the tear gas to disperse us but were aiming the canisters to hurt us.'...
When the tear gas took effect among the students the riot squad batoncharged them. There was general panic as students fled in all directions.
The reporter then added that local residents offered the students sanctuary, but the police fired into the backyards in order to 'flush' the students out.
Blacks Invade the White City
Through August the pattern of the North had been repeated in Cape Town. All the fighting had taken place in the Black areas and the Whites continued in their enclaves, undisturbed and seemingly unperturbed by the events that flowed past them. The march to Bonteheuwel showed quite clearly that the action had to be taken into the White centre, and the school pupils at that stage still thought in terms of marching and demonstrating. In fact, as their objective was publicity, that was one of the few means open to them. On Wednesday 1 September pupils of the schools of Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu arrived at Cape Town railway station without any prior notice or publicity and then marched through the central business district of the city. Unhindered and unmolested, they carried their placards: 'Away with apartheid'; 'Equal education' 'We want our Robben Island Prisoners'. They then marched, 2,000 strong, back to the station and returned home.

Coloured students had also reached the end of a road and, after the most recent confrontation with the police who were intent on destroying the Revolt, sought a new peaceful way of presenting their demands. The African demonstration on 1 September seemed to point a way and on the following day they too streamed into the city.

The police had been caught off guard when the Africans marched through the city, but the next day they were ready, and they descended on the marchers with an unprecedented ferocity. The city centre was sealed off and the police closed in on the youth and the white onlookers amongst whom they were caught. Tear gas in the streets seeped into the buildings forcing shopkeepers, clerks, attendants and the public into the streets where they were subjected to more gas and to riot sticks.

The youth, however, were far from cowed. Despite the drubbing they received that day, they came back into the centre of the city again on 3 September. Once again the police sealed off the city centre and only police vans were allowed in, hurling gas cylinders into crowds or into the streets at random.

As men and women came streaming out of gas filled buildings, the riot police in battle dress marched abreast, guns at the ready and firing buckshot into the ethnically mixed crowd. As people fled, they were beaten by police wielding batons and an assortment of staves and metal piping, and arrested. Those who escaped got into the coloured areas, only to find the riot vehicles waiting, ready with more gas, buckshot and bullets. The police were out in force in the coloured districts that day. The teachers who wrote to the London Guardian gave their account of events there:
The children of Trafalgar were standing in the playground watching tear gas being fired in the city below. A police car stopped in the road outside and a policeman jumped out and baton charged a boy of nine or ten. As the police pulled off the watching pupils booed. Immediately the car stopped and, without warning, policemen fired tear gas.

The children fled but later tied posters to the school fence saying: 'We want rights not riots'; 'Give us Justice'. Almost immediately two riot cars arrived, and fired tear gas, birdshot and bullets at the fleeing children. 'A bleeding boy fell to the ground. The principal ran forward to help him, but was ordered back.' The letter continued with an account of children throwing stones. The police burst into the school, guns at the ready, and beat up a teacher and children in the classrooms.

The pattern was repeated in other schools. At the Alexander Sinton High School, not only students but bystanders were shot. A youth who had poliomyelitis was hospitalised after being beaten up and was said to be permanently crippled. Other children had broken limbs after jumping through windows to escape the police who poured tear gas into crowded classrooms.47 'Instead of crushing the Coloured youth,... all hell broke loose in the [Cape] Peninsula. The kids at the high school refused to attend classes.'

The Cape Town revolt had passed the point where intimidation could force the youth off the streets. Despite all the reports - of shootings, of savaging by dogs, or of gassing -- the children were still out in the streets. Their mood was one of determination and yet, as they marched, they chanted: 'No violence, no violence'. To no avail: the riot squad charged again and again. The chant in the streets changed: 'We are not afraid to die. We shall sacrifice.' And again the response was tear gas, riot sticks and buckshot. That weekend (4-5 September), the youth were out in the coloured townships. They had stood all that they could bear. Schools, libraries and a magistrates court were set alight. On Monday there were few pupils at school and the pupils were dismissed for a week. On Tuesday the revolt was in full swing from the suburbs of Cape Town through to Stellenbosch and Somerset West, some 30 miles away. They fought in the city centres and they fought in, the suburbs -- destroying vehicles and ducking the police charges. By far the biggest battle occurred in the Coloured slum of Ravensmead where the inhabitants set up a road block of flaming tyres and threw petrol bombs at police vans. For two days they held off the police and brought the industries of the area, only 12 miles from Cape Town, to a halt.

The demonstrators in the Cape then moved for the first time into the exclusive all-white suburbs, stoned vehicles and shop fronts, removed goods and set buildings alight, and in Fish Hoek threw petrol bombs into houses. Urged on by the government, white vigilante groups had already come into existence to protect white schools and property, and to organise counter attacks on bands of black youth in the neighbourhood. Large cinemas converted into rifle ranges were packed and gunsmiths were besieged by a clientele that cleared the shelves. One indication of the mood of the day came from a report which the press were not prepared to print. Students at Stellenbosch, the premier Afrikaans medium university, were apparently enrolled into local Commando groups and joined nightly patrols, armed with FN guns. They were said to have participated in shooting-raids on black youth 'suspected of stone throwing'.

Was There a Cape Town Leadership?
In his report of events in the Cape Town townships on 11-13 August, Themba Nolutshungu quoted Kittman Fresi of the Black Mamba People's Movement as saying:
The people were waiting for us to direct the course of events and organise all the forces that were related to this commotion. . . . Our policy was to stay put, watch, analyse, come up with a historical document, and later on submit a questionnaire to the public. We would not stick our neck out for an unscrupulous bunch. But the audacity of the students is something worth taking note of. The adults have to listen to the youth. The best they can do is to take orders.
This statement by Mr. Fresi had a familiar ring about it. It came out of the tradition of small left groups that flourished for brief periods in Cape Town. They analysed endlessly, wrote their historical documents, but always 'stayed put'. Submitting questionnaires was a new departure and what the Black Mambas hoped to achieve by so doing was not recorded. It seems, however, that this time the Black Mambas, and presumably other groups too, decided to 'listen to the youth' and to 'take orders'. There is unfortunately a dearth of information on the groups that existed in the townships. Some were responsible for leaflets which appeared on the streets, and called for action or supported the stay-at-homes and so on. But they maintained anonymity and there is nothing on the many leaflets issued in August and September to indicate which group or groups were involved. Many of the adults remembered the events of 1960 and the stories of that time must have been handed down to the children. Some undoubtedly belonged to clandestine groups and it was known, at least from the trial of David and Sue Rabkin and Jeremy Cronin, that there were ANC and Communist Party groups active in the Western Cape.

Direct evidence is, understandably, difficult to obtain, but it is hard to believe that there were no groups in the townships. The memories were too vivid to allow for their disappearance. A teacher, talking to Lindy Wilson in mid-August would only say: 'You must salute to Black power and most people are excited by this Black power, even though they know people are dying. It's after 16 years of being bottled up and afraid. Adults have not forgotten I960.'

Some of the youth were also involved in political groups. A few had joined the Western Cape Youth Organisation, the local section of the National Youth Organisation (NAYO). Some had contacts with SASM. The slogans found on a classroom blackboard at the Roman Catholic school in Nyanga on 12 August indicated political awareness:
Cape Town Comrades. Mdantsane [East London] Comrades. Soweto Comrades.
Maputo Comrades. All these Comrades must unite.
No racism
No colonialism
Equality
But the politically orientated students were probably in a tiny minority and most of the demands expressed in August and issued as statements (or chalked on placards) were related to better schooling and teaching, more equipment and playing fields, and improved job opportunities for school leavers. Students at Langa High made a statement on 23 August, which included some of the earliest political demands:
We want our fellow students who have been detained to be released, and other detainees,, regardless of colour. Equal job, equal pay. Free education. We will never attend classes unless these demands are fulfilled, and the South African government will experience daily rioting if the above mentioned demands are not fulfilled.57
A large number of leaflets appeared in the streets. Some were produced by pupils of particular schools and bore their names. Others were produced anonymously. They carried complaints about conditions in the schools and also about police brutality. On 30 August a leaflet drawn up by students at three Bonteheuwel schools listed their grievances:
the system of apartheid and Coloured education;
lack of compulsory education;
lack of sports ground facilities;
general behaviour of the police during the unrest in Black areas;
police interference with demonstrations in school grounds;
the taking into custody of fellow students;
the attitude of White teachers on the staff;
the inconvenience allowance paid to White teachers -- seen as an insult.
An anonymous leaflet commenced: 'We the students of the Cape Peninsula declare that: We identify with the struggle for a basic human society.' The Bantu, Coloured and Indian Affairs Departments were condemned, and three demands were made: free and equal education for all; equal wages and work according to merit; and an end to influx control. There was no call to stage any particular action and the leaflet concluded: 'Students you have an important role to play in the change. All oppressed people must stand up now and be counted. So unite now.'

Although there were signs of co-ordination in the African areas and also signs of some centralising body in the Coloured suburbs, there were no names attached to most of the calls for action. Even a call for a strike in mid- September (which will be discussed in Chapter Thirteen) appeared anonymously and, equally anonymously, was supported by a variety of groups. One leaflet expressing solidarity called for 'Workers Power and Peoples Power' and must have been the product of one of the many small groups tucked away in one of the communities.
At the end of October a body calling itself the United Students Front declared its existence. It was stated that a group of African, Indian and Coloured pupils from schools in the Cape Peninsula had formed this body three months previously. Their aim was to 'politically educate and unite the Black oppressed masses', and one of their proposals was that no examinations be written until the government took active steps to remedy their grievances.59 If this committee was responsible for any of the events of the past three months, it had not only kept a low public profile, but had also only had a limited effect on the student body. There were few signs that the coloured students and African students had planned jointly, and only limited evidence that events even inside each of the two main population groups had been co-ordinated.

There can be little doubt that committees had to protect themselves and that a certain degree of anonymity was desirable -- but committees which never declared themselves and never published under their name stood in danger of remaining unrecognised amongst the people.

The roots of the conflict were partly local and could be found in conditions in the suburbs and townships of Cape Town, and part of the struggle stemmed from attempts by the central government to implement an apartheid system that the population found obnoxious. Explanations of events as shattering as those of 1976, however, require more than a set of objective conditions that are oppressive. There had to be the will to struggle and the organisation to maintain that action once it had started.

There were, as has been shown above, some organisations that tried to provide leadership, even if evidence of their existence has been hard to find. At times this was overcome by students following a lead suggested by activities in the Transvaal. Having once moved into demonstrations, the logic of events suggested new tactics and new methods. This in turn became known through press accounts to the SSRC in Soweto (and elsewhere), and the tactic was applied locally. Students in Cape Town helped initiate the marches into the city centres - or at least showed the way. In like fashion Soweto students often suggested to other communities what the next step might be. After a while, therefore, a description of events in only one region becomes one-dimensional and the dynamics of the struggle are left unexplored. The events of Cape Town were merged in the national struggle in September and, although local conditions laid a stamp on the actual mechanics with which plans were executed, it was the national pattern which became important.
Other Centres of the Revolt
In describing the peculiar social conditions in Cape Town, and claiming that the particular ethnic composition, the poor housing, and so on were contributory factors which led to the spread of the Revolt into the Western Cape, there is an obvious danger that the Capital city might be seen as a unique case. If, indeed, only the region around Cape Town had caught fire that August, there would have been good reason for seeking out factors which differentiated it from all other towns in the Cape and, obviously. Natal and the OFS. Although there are only some newspaper accounts and sparse reports in the annual surveys already cited, it is clear that more detailed accounts will show that few urban centres were left unaffected by the Revolt. It also seems clear that the Revolt in each town started in the local school or schools, and then spread out into the townships and suburbs of the town. It also seems that every tactic evolved in Soweto and Cape Town was repeated in some form in most of the big centres. How far any one centre was influenced by events in Johannesburg or Cape Town is not known, but the timing does indicate that local populations learned from what had happened elsewhere. Because local conditions were so very different, there were obviously unique factors which entered into and altered the course of events in every town. Local variations were also affected by the presence of persons with particular political affiliations, by the existence in a town of an active political body or community association, and pressing local or regional problems. Too little is known about the history of the many small communities to be able to place the episodes that have been reported in perspective and none of the leaflets or other material produced by local leaders has become available. There is little, consequently, which would help provide further understanding of events in most of the outlying regions. There was a spate of incidents immediately after the opening of the schools on 22 July. Within a few days a secondary school at Tugela Ferry was burnt down and a school library damaged at Vryheid, both in Natal. On 9 August the Bantu Administration Board complex at Pinetown was destroyed by fire and at least five other schools set alight that month, and students at Ohlango High School (KwaMashu, Durban) staged a march in mid - September and held a protest rally at the sports stadium. As a result 285 students were arrested and the township was sealed off by police. Shortly after this event, 'mysterious' veld fires were reported in Natal; probably the first since the early 1960's when these had been part of the sabotage campaigns of the time.
Events in the Eastern Cape indicate that the Revolt there was protracted and bitter. The first incidents in the townships were reported on 7 August in New Brighton (Port Elizabeth) and on 9 August in Mdantsane (near East London). That is, a few days before the students marched in Cape Town. There were very few days in August in which the press did not carry stories of incidents of the Revolt in the main townships of the Eastern Cape: fires at schools, libraries, administration buildings, bottlestores and beerhalls; marches, boycotts, freedom songs, road blocks and confrontations with riot police. The dead, the injured, and the closing of all schools - all these items appeared. There were also accounts of attempts by African townships to join together in demonstrations and of coloured and African students planning to march together, but being frustrated by police intervention.

There were demonstrations of sympathy with Soweto; marches in protest against the detention of Rev. Hendrickse (national chairman of the Labour Party) in Uitenhage, his hometown, and at Graaf Reinet; marches and freedom songs at Zwelitsha (near Kingwilliamstown) after the death in detention of Mapetha Mohapi of the BPC; and there was a march of 500 students through the streets of Lady Frere (Transkei) in protest against the proposed 'independence' in October. Cars were overturned and set alight, telephone wires were pulled down, and eventually about 300 were arrested by the police.

Marches of 300 to 500 were common. On 18 August the crowd rapidly grew to 4,000 when residents of Port Elizabeth's townships joined the students of KwaZakele High School who tried to march to the local Wolfson Stadium. The march was followed later in the day by attempts by approximately 1,000 residents of the three townships. New Brighton, KwaZakele and Zwide, to march to the main administration buildings. The police scattered the crowd by means of tear gas, but they regrouped, set up road blocks and stoned vehicles. All transport into the townships was stopped and the police sent in reinforcements. Bottlestores, a bank, post office and an administration office block were destroyed. At least eight Blacks were killed and 20 injured. On the same Wednesday, 18 August, students at Mdantsane announced a boycott of classes until a detained student was released. The youth gathered in the streets and cars were stoned until the police arrived with tear gas. All post-primary schools were henceforth closed by the Ciskei Education Department.

Towns with previous histories of struggle or strife, and towns which had never before experienced such conflicts, were the scenes of these clashes. Port Elizabeth and Mdantsane, Lady Frere, Uitenhage, Genadendal, Graaf Reinet, Idutywa, Stutterheim, in the Eastern Cape, Transkei and Ciskei, were all the scenes of major incidents. Other smaller towns did not warrant a notice in the press, already filled with news from the Transvaal and the Western Cape and, when they could be squeezed in, Kimberley, Upington (both in the Northern Cape), and Bloemfontein and Kroonstad in the OFS.

The accumulated anger over oppression, the urgent desire for freedom, the frustration caused by slum housing, bad transport, and hunger, the hatred of officialdom and the police, were all fed into the Revolt. What needs to be explained is not why the communities entered the Revolt, but why some regions witnessed such little action in those opening months and indeed throughout the long Revolt.

Although Natal seemed to be relatively quiet, there was actually far more action than appeared from the scattered news items in the provincial press. There were demonstrations, strikes and acts of arson in many of the towns, led in the main by school students. But the number of secondary schools and the number of African youth in the secondary schools in the urban centres outside the Southern Transvaal and the Eastern Cape was minuscule. Although there were local conditions which make generalisations difficult, there was a direct correlation between the concentration of secondary schools in a region and the extent of local participation in the Revolt. In parts of the Cape, where African secondary schooling was not extensive, the combined coloured and African school participation more than made up for the low numbers of African students.

In keeping with the policies laid down by Dr. Verwoerd when he first introduced Bantu Education in 1954, the bulk of African secondary education had been moved to the Reserves. In March 1975, when the intake into African secondary schools had already been doubled, the proportion of pupils who received their education in the Reserves was 70 per cent. 221,827 youth received their secondary education in the Reserves while only 96,741 were accommodated in the 'white' urban centres. The vast majority of these were in schools in the Southern Transvaal and the Eastern Cape. Few townships in the Northern Cape, the Orange Free State or Natal could boast more than one secondary school and, where they had been established, the annual intake was usually small. This obviously acted as a damper on the extent of activity such students could undertake -- and there was seldom any follow-up to an initial demonstration or strike.

The heavy concentration of schools in the Reserves did, however, stimulate the Revolt there. Widespread activity took place in BophutuTswana, in Basotho Qua-Qua and to a lesser degree in Lebowa. The schools in the Ciskei and the adjoining areas of the Eastern Cape were deeply involved after August. Only KwaZulu and the Transkei remained areas of comparative quiet. Any attempt here to describe conditions in these latter two areas in detail would go outside the scope of this book. It must suffice to state that the Transkei had been governed under emergency laws since 1960 and that all opposition to the regime had been summarily dealt with. A strike in August 1960 by 1,300 workers for higher wages followed an alleged assault by a white foreman on a black woman. All the workers were dismissed after the police had been summoned. In the field of constitutional politics there were equally draconian measures to silence any opposition. Between 25 and 27 July, nine leaders of the opposition Democratic Party were placed in detention and at least eight more were incarcerated during August. The fact that there were student demonstrations at Idutywa and elsewhere bears testimony to the courage of the students, but there were obviously severe limitations on the Transkeian students which prevented them playing a prominent role in the events of 1976.

The situation in KwaZulu was rendered more complex by the strong control maintained by Gatsha Buthelezi. In his territory there was little opportunity for an opposition force to be established partly because of the continual surveillance of any group which might emerge to support the King in his political intrigues, and partly because Buthelezi's populist appeal attracted many of the youth. This did not prevent some of the students demonstrating, particularly as the target was not Buthelezi but the South African government's Bantu Education Department. Of even greater importance, was the widespread support Buthelezi had built up amongst the workers in Durban and its environs. Throughout the Revolt the Chief appealed for an end to all violence, for a return to school, for a disciplined black community, and at the same time let it be known that students who embarked on militant action would be speedily dealt with. The workers saw no reason for taking action and the students were unable to move. In the event Buthelezi, who had been seen as a possible embarrassment to the regime, proved to be a valuable asset to the government forces.

The pattern of events in July and August did not yet allow some of these trends to manifest themselves. The students seemed to carry everything before them and they were confident that they could give the lead in the months to come. There were already signs that they were going to introduce new tactics, at least in the main centres, and once again the initiative would come from Soweto. The other towns would follow.


References:
• Baruch, H. (1979). Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt: Roots of A Revolution, London: Zed Press

Last updated : 28-Jul-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011