Marcus Motaung

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Biographical information


Student activist during the Soweto Revolt of 1976, MK Cadre, trialist and death row


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Date of death: 
9 June 1983

Marcus Motaung grew up in Diepkloof in the 1960s and 1970s. His family moved to the Township around the early to mid-1960s. They were part of families forcibly removed from Alexandra Township, North of Johannesburg. This phase of forced removals of African families from Alexandra Township to Diepkloof and Meadowlands was intended to mark a complete annihilation of the Township as was the case with Sophiatown, whose destruction was completed in 1960.

After completing primary school education, Motaung started his high school education at Madibane High School in Diepkloof in 1972. As a student he was actively involved in the Students Christian Movement (SCM). One of his closest friends at Madibane High School was Abiel Lebelo, a prefect and member of the South African Students’ Movement (SASM). After the eruption of student anger against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at schools and Bantu Education on 16 June 1976, protests continued and spread across the country with more schools joining.

On 4 August 1976 the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) organized a massive student march from Soweto to the centre of Johannesburg. Students from Madibane High School joined the march and used the Soweto Highway. The police responded by opening fire on students killing Abiel Lebelo. Following this incident, Tsietsi Mashinini led a group of students to houses of policemen, with an intention of torching their houses and attacking them. A major consequence of that march was that thousands of students fled the country, heading into exile.

Marcus left the country and fled to Swaziland where he joined the ANC’s armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He was taken to Mozambique en route to Angola where received military training. After training, he was  deployed back into South Africa in 1979 as a member of a Unit of known as G5. The Unit was under the leadership of General Solly Shoke, (who succeeded Siphiwe Nyanda as Chief of Staff), Steve Mafoko, Victor Mokgatle, Dan Morodi and a man named only as Khali.

The unit was tasked with preparing bases and hideouts for the infiltration of more cadres who were expected to re-enter the country shortly thereafter. On 3 May 1979, Marcus Motaung, Nicky Sangele and Thelle Mogoerane entered the Moroka Police Station and opened fire on police officers on duty. This was followed by another attack in which Motaung and his unit attacked a police station in Orlando on 2 November 1979. In this case there were sixty staff members in the police precinct, and two policemen were critically wounded, dying a few days later in hospital. The unit also attacks Wonderboom Police station in Pretoria in which four policemen were killed. Several more attacks were launched on police stations in Kliptown and Orlando Magistrate Court.

These attacks on police stations elicited a response from the government. It had become clear that police stations were targeted by the G5 Unit, and that the police were unable to apprehend those involved. Police Stations around Soweto were then fortified with sandbags at the entrances in an attempt to prevent further attacks.

Marcus was finally arrested in a dugout in Laudium, near Pretoria and three other members of the unit were also arrested. He was shot three times in the groin by the police during his arrest and was subsequently taken a surgeon who just administered pain killers. He was denied hospital treatment for two days.

Rasegatla, who was coordinating the operations of G5 was still in Soweto and remained confident that Marcus would never expose him or other hide outs  regardless of the torture he was likely to be subjected to, Rasegatla notes, “...from his arrest throughout his trial until he was hanged. That guy did reveal even a bullet. He never said anything that compromised the struggle.

A trial followed in which Marcus and three of the 5 members of G5 were found guilty and sentenced to deathon 6 August, 1982.  On 7 June 1983 two days before Marcus and his comrades were executed, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 533 which expressed concern on the death sentences. Marcus was executed on 9 June 1983. The death sentence was roundly condemned by the foreign media. All agreed that the sentence was excessive, as there were extenuating circumstances, but the Apartheid government had proceeded with the execution regardless.

• South Africa Democracy Education Trust (2006) ‘The Road to Democracy in South Africa, vol. 2, [1970-1980]’, Pretoria: UNISA Press, pp 483,486-488,492,496,497
• Executed today ‘1983: Simon Thelle Mogoerane, Jerry Mosololi and Marcus Motaung, anti-apartheid soldiers from executed today’ [online] Available at:[Accessed 15 November 2011]
• British Medical Association,(1992), Medicine betrayed: the participation of doctors in human rights abuses,(London), p.139.
• Argus Newspaper, 4 May 1979

Last updated : 24-Nov-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 18-Nov-2011