Youth upris­ing

Vet­eran jour­nal­ist Wil­lie Bokala re­flects on his re­la­tions with the lead­ers of the June 16, 1976 re­volt and its lessons for to­day’s gen­er­a­tion

Afro Voice (Western Cape) - - Sport - REGOMODITSWE MPUTLE busi­ness anal­y­sis arts life­style Regomoditswe Mputle is a me­dia scholar and com­men­ta­tor

WHEN Bantu education min­is­ter MC Botha made the procla­ma­tion in 1975 that Afrikaans would be used as a medium of in­struc­tion, his de­cree trig­gered a turn­ing point in the his­tory of our coun­try and sparked the June 16, 1976 stu­dent upris­ing. Vet­eran jour­nal­ist Tsholofelo Wil­liam Bokala re­ported on the events of the June 16 upris­ing and shares his re­flec­tions of that his­toric turn­ing point.

Bokala was work­ing as a jour­nal­ist for The World news­pa­per and re­calls meet­ing with the sec­ondary school stu­dents who would go on to lead the his­toric June 16, 1976 Soweto stu­dents upris­ing.

“It was the ju­nior sec­ondary schools which set off the boy­cott of schools, with Or­lando West Ju­nior Sec­ondary School the first to start around the be­gin­ning of 1976. The school was sit­u­ated in Or­lando West near Or­lando High School where pupils at­tended school as usual but would refuse to be taught in Afrikaans.”

Bokala, then aged 22, reg­u­larly in­ter­acted with the pupils of Or­lando West Ju­nior Sec­ondary and as a jour­nal­ist re­ported on the pupils rea­sons for re­fus­ing to be taught in Afrikaans.

“As soon as I ar­rive at the school, the leader of the protest, Seth Maz­ibuko would come run­ning and re­late to me the lat­est in­for­ma­tion about their boy­cott against Afrikaans.”

Seth Maz­ibuko would sim­ply say, Bokala re­calls, that: “We will be out of classes un­til the gov­ern­ment re­moves the lan­guage of Afrikaans, the other thing that we wish should hap­pen is for the min­is­ter of Bantu Education to come here so that we can talk to him our­selves or if the min­is­ter can­not come to us they should send Mr Stry­dom (who was di­rec­tor of Bantu Education in the Transvaal at that time).”

Two months down the line Diep­kloof Ju­nior Sec­ondary also joined the boy­cott, soon af­ter Esiyal­wini Ju­nior Sec­ondary School joined and then other sec­ondary schools around the town­ship fol­lowed suit.

Bokala re­calls that dur­ing the build up to the mass protest march of June 16, he had dif­fer­ent sources who en­trusted him with in­for­ma­tion on the plans of the protest­ing pupils, many of them lead­ers of the upris­ing.

“Te­bello Mo­ta­pa­nyane was a stu­dent at Or­lando High School and a leader of the South African Stu­dents Move­ment (SASM). It was stu­dents like him who lob­bied the rest of the high schools to join in the protest, so much so that meet­ings be­gan to take place and we as jour­nal­ists were tipped off about other meet­ings that took place in other high schools such as Mor­ris Isaac­son High School and Naledi High School. On June 8, 1976 po­lice tried to ar­rest a stu­dent leader in Naledi High School but failed be­cause their car was burned.”

The Ur­ban Bantu Coun­cil was ap­proached by jour­nal­ists for its views about the on­go­ing protests in Soweto schools.

“I re­mem­ber one coun­cil meet­ing where a coun­cil­lor named Mos­ala pre­dicted that if the gov­ern­ment did noth­ing to ad­dress the school boycotts, that the coun­try was go­ing to burn.”

His reg­u­lar in­ter­ac­tion with the protest­ing pupils and his close re­la­tions with the lead­ers of the upris­ing pro­vided Bokala with a trea­sure trove of in­for­ma­tion and in­sights. This en­abled him to write a lead story for The World news­pa­per on Wednesday 16 June 1976 which was the day of the mass protest march.

Bokala was up early on June 16 and well pre­pared to record the his­toric event to­gether with his col­league, the pho­tog­ra­pher Mof­fat Zungu.

“We ended up at Naledi High School and fol­lowed that route straight to Mor­ris Isaac­son High School where stu­dents were leav­ing the school premises and I de­cided to stick with that group.”

As the stu­dents me­an­dered through Soweto to Or­lando High School and the sta­dium they chanted, “Koloi ya sech­aba ha ena ma­bili suta, suta wena Stry­dom, suta suta wena Vorster, Ha oo sa suti ee tlo ho repitla.”

Which means: “There is a car mov­ing that be­longs to the na­tion, move away from our path Stry­dom, move away from our path Vorster for if you don’t do so, this car will crash into you.”

As the protest­ing pupils ar­rived at Or­lando High the po­lice also ar­rived at the school and

Kim Heller po­lice spoke through a loud hailer from on top of a po­lice Nyala, “You are go­ing to stop here, you are dis­pers­ing now, you are go­ing home, if you don’t do that there is go­ing to be trou­ble.”

“But the pupils con­tin­ued to show peace signs and sing free­dom songs. How­ever the po­lice opened fire and shot on the stu­dents.”

As po­lice con­tin­ued to shoot, ac­cord­ing to Bokala, the pupils scat­tered and ran in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

“The first vic­tim shot down by the po­lice was Hast­ings Ndlovu. For­tu­nately he was not fa­tally shot, be­cause as soon as he fell to the ground, I reached him and I tried to check his in­juries.

“He was had been shot through the heart and the bul­let came out through his back. We rushed him to Dr Aaron Matl­hare’s surgery in the area. When the driver came back, more and more stu­dents were be­ing trans­ported to the nearby clinic and hos­pi­tals.”

Bokala was un­der pres­sure to re­port what he had wit­nessed and was in need of a phone. “I found an old lady who had a phone and paid her R10 and I booked the phone for the whole day. I would run around the streets and then call the of­fice. I only re­turned to the of­fice at around 8pm that day.”

Po­lice con­tin­ued to shoot at the pupils who fought back with what­ever they could get their hands on. “They used dust­bin lids to cover them­selves while throw­ing rocks at the po­lice. Po­lice were fir­ing bul­lets, I saw peo­ple be­ing run over by trucks and cars.”

“I wanted to find out what hap­pened to the other stu­dents who were sup­posed to meet at Or­lando West only to dis­cover that what was hap­pen­ing in Or­lando was also hap­pen­ing in the vicin­ity of Mor­ris Isaac­son High School.”

“Three lead­ers of the Ur­ban Bantu Coun­cil, in­clud­ing the mayor wanted to go and rep­ri­mand the stu­dents. I ad­vised them that the stu­dents did not want to see any­body that was linked to the gov­ern­ment, them go­ing there could only end in tragedy.

“Chil­dren died, oth­ers were ar­rested. Lead­ers of the upris­ing such as Tsi­etsi Mashinini and Te­bello Mo­ta­pa­nyane would help me with their names and ad­dresses. Hav­ing to break the news to the par­ents touched me as much as it touched them.”

The upris­ing spread to other parts of the coun­try and Bokala, be­cause of his close links to the lead­ers of the stu­dent re­volt, be­came a tar­get of the po­lice and was sub­se­quently ar­rested in Au­gust 1976. He was held in de­ten­tion for 14 days un­der sec­tion 29 of the Ri­otous As­sem­blies Act.

Al­most one year later, on June 14, 1977 Bokala linked up with new SASM leader Sech­aba Montsetse who was planning the first com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 1976 upris­ing at

Ce­cil Ra­monotsi Or­lando Sta­dium. In a twist of fate, Montsetse was ar­rested and Bokala also found him­self be­hind bars af­ter his ar­rest un­der Sec­tion 6 of the Ter­ror­ism Act.

Bokala was ren­dered job­less af­ter The World news­pa­per was forced by the apartheid au­thor­i­ties to close its doors and this hap­pened soon af­ter he was re­leased from jail.

“Thank good­ness that Percy Qoboza worked for The Transvaal Post.”

Dur­ing one of his spells in prison, Bokala was vis­ited with the fond news that ANC leader Oliver Tambo men­tioned his re­ports on the June 16 upris­ing dur­ing a speech to the UN on June 11, 1981.

“When Nel­son Man­dela was re­leased from prison I went to see him at his Soweto house.

Lawrence Masha­bela He said I must tell my fa­ther that he wanted to see him. When my fa­ther came back from his meet­ing with Madiba he related to me that Madiba ex­pressed his praise for my work.”

Bokala said as­pir­ing jour­nal­ists and the youth at large should ap­pre­ci­ate the free­doms they en­joy and make greater ef­fort to un­der­stand and learn from the coun­try’s his­tory. He said the youth of the June 16 upris­ing were brave, coura­geous, de­ter­mined and re­liant on their own strengths and abil­i­ties.

“I ad­vise younger jour­nal­ists to re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate the free­doms they have and to make some time to get a bet­ter knowl­edge of the lib­er­a­tion his­tory of South Africa.”










Yazeed Van Wyk

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