Newsletter 57 June 16!
JUNE 16 – A PERSONAL ACCOUNT
"As a general rule, teachers teach more by what they are than by what they say" Unknown
As we are reflecting on June 16 1976 this commemoration is about our YOUTH and their contribution to the South African “revolution”. I was in Grade 11 at the time and left school before the riots began and was working as a store assistant at Danco Knitting Mills in Lansdowne. I would follow the uprising listening to the radio. It was during the 1980s that I for the first time encountered the full might and bravado of the township youth. 1980 I was in my final year at Hewat College. At one of the mass meetings a call was made for volunteers to represent Hewat at the upcoming Committee of 81 meeting to be held at Rylands High School. By then the Hewat leadership were all in hiding and on the run from the security police. I VOLUNTEERED – A DECISION WHICH HAS CHANGED MY LIFE! The hall was filled to the brim. Excitement was in the air. Planning had to be done. YOUNG PEOPLE ALL OVER REPRESENTING SCHOOLS IN THE WESTERN CAPE. At first I felt out of place – “I am soon to be teacher amongst this sea of young people – an adult of which is expected of me to give guidance and reassurance to the young in my care…I am supposed to take care of them.” But these young people did not need my adult supervision. I stood in awe at the bravery displayed that day. I STOOD IN AWE! Then a twist. A scuffle occurred and the chair reported that the security police is outside surrounding the hall. I froze in fear. The youth was unrepentant and steadfast, brave and organized. The view was one of defiance. How brave these young people were.
I started teaching at Manenberg High School and soon 1985 was upon us. YOUTH REVOLT! As progressive teachers in the Western Cape we started WECTU (The Western Cape Teachers Union). I soon became part of the regional leadership which resulted in my arrest. In 1985 I was at Victor Verster Prison and in 1988 in Poolsmoor Prison. Circumstances demanded that progressive teachers share planning, strategy and public platforms with our students. My leadership had a very simple slogan. “If and when our students march we as progressive teachers must be in the forefront to offer them our care and protection. Every student march in Manenberg at the time teachers accompanied students and faced off the police with guns shoved into our face – WE WERE BRAVE ONE BECAUSE OUR LEADERSHIP DEMANDED IT – confronting the police taunting them to “let our children be”. The admiration and awe of 1980 repeated itself in 1985 up until today. I SALUTE OUR YOUTH! How brave were they in prison! I shared food, a cell, money and many discussions with students as they were arrested and incarcerated. We shared stories of sometimes despair but mostly hope that “we shall overcome”. I ADMIRED THE BRAVERY OF OUR YOUTH AND IN PARTICULAR MY COMRADES, THE YOUTH OF MANENBERG HIGH. FOUR stories comes to mind. Two at Manenberg High, the brutality against the students of Worcester by the security policy and the vigil we had for the murdered of Ashley Kriel.
A group of standard 6 and 7 students at Manenberg High were arrested by the police. After protest by teachers and the SRC the group was released to great celebration at Manenberg High. We had an assembly to listen to the experience of members of the group. A very brave standard 6 student related his story saying that the police wanted to know the names of the student leaders. To a great explosion of applause he said “and I said to the police that we are all leaders”.
On a day one of the Manenberg High SRC members confided in me that a few days ago a school friend visited him at home accompanied with her male friend with a car. They took a drive to the beach and on return home this person indicated that he works for the security police and he wants this member of the SRC to spy on teachers and students. The person gave him a contact number to call in the event of available information. The threat was made very clear. I interceded by trying to find out from which area the number was. Through hustle the Telkom operator indicated that it is a number located at the Castle in Cape Town. I called the number and the person who picked up said “JR & Associates” and I immediately put the phone down. We (Job and I) planned the following intervention. The SRC member will call “his guy” and offer information but request that he come to school and meet him at the back of the school where “his guy” will be introduced to other potential informants. The message included that he must park his car on school premises and walk to the back. Job and I kept a watchful eye. As “the guy” parked his car and walked to the back we secretly locked the gate. Pretending to do ground duty Job and I – as planned – took the member of the SRC and “the guy” to the Office. Miss Backman was acting-principal at the time. As we entered the office I pushed the SRC member out of the office and closed the door saying to the principal that “this guy” is from the security police and has been threatening our students. Realizing what is happening “the guy” pulled his gun and said “I am not from the security police”. I said that he lied and indicated that he is stationed at the Castle. On “the guys” face I could see he was afraid and puzzled to which I said that we too have our intelligence. “The guy" threatened us with his gun and wanted to leave by which I appealed to the principal to call the security police to come fetch their guy. “The guy” insisted that he wants to leave and “begged” the principal not to call the security police. We opened the door and let “the guy” leave. We were puzzled. It was within a week when the Vrye Weekblad ran with the story of the newly established military bureau a security arm of the military in an attempt to eliminate enemies of the state.
Whilst at Victor Verster Prison a commotion took place one late evening. It was dark and normally no prisoner exchange would happen after lock-up. A group a students from Worcester were brought into the communal cell. Their story reaffirmed my commitment to freedom. They we arrested and taken into the bush with cocked pistols to their head demanding information by the security policy. At some point the trigger was pressed but no bullet fired…the pandemonium and anguish in the bush remains as vivid as was told in 1985. But these “boys” refused to give up information. They were released 14 days later only to be rearrested and return that same night of their release with a similar story of police brutality in the bush.
The community of Bonteheuwel decided to have a whole night vigil for our slain comrade Ashley Kriel. Cammy and I prepared us well for this whole night vigil. We practiced and wrote down the lyrics of most of the contemporary freedom songs that we were going to sing that night. Armed with the lyrics we entered the hall that evening (a Friday night – the funeral was the Saturday). The hall was electric. As it filled up the mood amongst the youth became more angry and militant – they demanded justice for their slain and murdered comrade. We stayed the night and remained for the funeral. Boesak was great but the bravery of our youth carried the day. The police tried to remove the ANC flag from the draped coffin. The YOUTH fought them off.
I sometimes wonder what has happened to the young people which was entrusted to me in Manenberg, the youth I encountered at Victor Verster and Poolsmoor. I hope they are well and productive citizens of our newly founded democracy. Yes, and if you must know this has been an emotional journey writing this article and reliving the 1980s – BUT I WAS WITH OUR YOUTH – ALUTA CONTINUA!
I was attending a family function post 1994 in Bonteheuwel and overheard how a gangster present bragging that his gang were employed by the security police to harm and spy on the youth in Bonteheuwel during 1980's. They would receive money and drugs as payment for their participation. I approached this person who confirms details of their activities. We always suspected this to be true. That conversation confirmed the role played by the gangsters in Bonteheuwel.
“Since the early 1990s, June 16, now known as Youth Day, has been remembered, commemorated, and memorialised as public history. There have been different ways and forms through which the June 16 1976 student uprisings have been commemorated.” - //www.sahistory.org.za
“Cape Schools Join the Revolt. 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.” “After the first shootings in Cape Town, a teacher at one of the schools recounted (that) 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
In Guguletu, a teacher described the scene as “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. . . .”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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'.”
Baruch, H. (1979). Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt: Roots of A Revolution, London: Zed Press.This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011