The Freedom struggle in Polokwane
Re-emergence of resistance, 1980-89
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By the early 1980s, the Congress movement was becoming established as the most effective force in the fight against apartheid throughout the country. With the launch of the UDF in August 1983, this pre-eminence was sealed, and the Black Consciousness organisations began to wane. The strength of the unions after tentative beginnings since 1973 reinforced the tempo of resistance, and in the Steelpoort area miners began to take part in political activities. The Metal and Allied Workers Union was especially active, recruiting members with the help of Chief Mampuru. Mawu split over the issue of allegiance to the UDF, and a breakaway was formed, the United Metal and Motorworkers of South Africa. Later the Steelpoort Youth Congress (Seyco) was established.
At Turfloop, the Azanian Students Organistion (Azaso) adopted the Freedom Charter, shedding its allegiance to Black Consciousness, and took control of the SRC. The resources that became available to Azaso were used to support scores of activists and organisations in the surrounding region, and the campus came to be called “Lusaka”, after the capital of Zambia, where the ANC had its headquarters.
In 1984 students resolved to mobilise people in the villages, and they set about gathering recruits and raising consciousness in these rural settings. They made contact with Cosas, whose leaders visited the areas on various occasions.
When the Middelburg and Witbank areas became hotbeds of resistance, targeted activists fled and took refuge in Sekhukhuneland.
Meanwhile, the Nchabaleng household in the village of Apel became a centre of subversive activity. Peter Nchabaleng, acquitted in 1978 but banned for five years, saw his banning order expire in 1983, and was made president of the Northern Traansvaal branch of the UDF in 1986. But, Delius reports, it was his sons who played a more dynamic role in mobilising the youth of the Sekhukhuneland region.
Elleck Nchabaleng was released from Robben Island in 1984, having undergone an intensive struggle education at the “Struggle University”. By the end of August the Sekhukhuneland Youth Party was formed, consisting of youth from Apel and Nkwana. Nine of them attended a UDF rally in Seshego, just outside Pietersburg, and returned with forms for the UDF’s million-signature campaign. The petition echoed the million-signature campaign of the ANC in the 1950s.
Elleck began to work for the Community Resources and Information Centre (Cric) at the end of 1984. Cric, based in Johannesburg, was set up by former Nusas members, and became a bountiful source of support for Elleck’s efforts in the north.
Elleck’s brother Morris also played a leadership role at school, holding meetings at home where the youth discussed Congress politics and the Freedom Charter. Morris formed a partnership with Richard Magerule Sekonya, a student returning after the closure of Tompizeleka Agricultural College, which had been wracked by student protests. The duo began a brisk process of mobilisation, bringing already existing youth bodies into an overarching body, the Sekhukhuneland Youth Organisation (Seyco). It held its first significant meeting on New Year’s Eve 1985, the students singing and chanting freedom songs in a march between Apel and Nkwana and back. The movement grew rapidly, drawing students together with unemployed youth into an enlarged Seyco by February 1986.