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‘Iam still hurt­ing. I am still bit­ter. I was sup­posed to be with my girl­friend. In­stead, af­ter that march and get­ting ar­rested, I spent years on Robben Is­land,” Seth Maz­ibuko says, his voice shak­ing. When City Press ar­rives at the of­fices of the Moral Re­gen­er­a­tion Move­ment – a non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion that works with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties – Maz­ibuko is buoy­ant, full of laughs, apol­o­gis­ing that the in­ter­view will not last too long be­cause he has a num­ber of ap­point­ments to keep.

But when we speak about a meet­ing in Soweto to rec­on­cile var­i­ous groups in­volved in the 1976 Soweto Upris­ing, in com­mem­o­ra­tion of its 40th an­niver­sary, he is seething.

“I am in this state on the 40th an­niver­sary. I haven’t for­given yet. I still feel that the story of 1976 and the lives lost in 1976 have just been re­duced to fun in a sta­dium – where peo­ple can come to get ten­ders, drink liquor and lis­ten to Chomee. It is a cheap life that died in 1976,” he says.

On the eve of June 16 1976, Maz­ibuko sat with his com­rades and his girl­friend in a build­ing op­po­site the Or­lando Po­lice Sta­tion, eat­ing cake and cel­e­brat­ing his 16th birth­day.

On the morn­ing of the 16th, the group parted ways and headed to their des­ig­nated start­ing points. The plan, which was sup­posed to be rolled out over three days, was hatched a mere three days be­fore – on the pre­vi­ous Sun­day evening. Stu­dents would be mo­bilised from the east and west of Soweto over two days, and on the third day, they would all march to Or­lando Sta­dium.

Ever an­i­mated and al­most per­ma­nently smil­ing, Maz­ibuko ges­tures wildly with his hands as he speaks. The first time I met him, he was in fear for his life. Sit­ting in his home in Soweto, he told the story of how a com­mu­nity meet­ing held at his house was dis­rupted, al­legedly by dodgy gun-tot­ing ANC coun­cil­lors. The meet­ing was held to dis­cuss the con­tentious is­sue of pre­paid elec­tric­ity in Soweto, and Maz­ibuko had been call­ing for an end to the pre­paid me­ters.

This week, min­utes into our con­ver­sa­tion, he loses his smile and be­comes se­ri­ous. He says he is tired of telling this story once a year to en­ter­tain peo­ple, while noth­ing changes. He hopes that next year this story will be told and owned by the #FeesMustFall stu­dents in­stead. Still, he tells the story, re­liv­ing ev­ery mo­ment. “Tsi­etsi Mashinini’s group came down Vi­lakazi Street. They were fol­lowed from be­hind by a huge con­tin­gent of po­lice and th­ese po­lice threw tear gas can­is­ters at the crowd. The gods of Africa were with us. You know what hap­pened? The fumes blew back at them – the wind was blow­ing in the di­rec­tion of the po­lice,” he says.

While na­ture was on the march­ing stu­dents’ side, po­lice let loose a dog, which was soon stoned to death. Soon af­ter, another group of stu­dents ar­rived be­hind the po­lice, who were then sand­wiched in be­tween the two groups.

Maz­ibuko pauses for a long time. “I’m not go­ing to cry,” he says to him­self.

“That is when they started us­ing live bul­lets. I saw chil­dren who I led out of the class­rooms be­ing mowed to death by their own fa­thers. The only thing I re­gret and I would say I am sorry about is hav­ing taken 13year-olds, 12-year-olds into the streets to be killed. That still lives with me.”

A sin­gle tear slides down the right side of his face. He lets it sit there for a while be­fore paus­ing to take off his glasses and wipe it away.

The ac­tivist keeps re­fer­ring to the na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion project and the “cel­e­bra­tions” that come with the com­mem­o­ra­tion once a year with great dis­taste. He ar­gues in­stead for crit­i­cal dis­cus­sions around the sacri­fice made by him­self and his slain com­rades.

“I stayed 18 months without trial in soli­tary con­fine­ment. I mean, re­ally. I am a 16-year-old boy. How do you keep me alone in a cell for 18 months?

“If I tell you about one of the ways they tor­tured me ... three bricks – one with twine, one with wire and another with twine – tied to my gen­i­tals, then I must stand up and then squat. That was life be­hind bars when you were de­tained without trial un­der the Ter­ror­ism Act. I would sit on the toi­let wall and some­times count the cars that were pass­ing on the free­way. When they gave me cof­fee, I would drip bits of it on to the floor to at­tract ants, and they would be my friends for the day, thank God.”

Af­ter 40 years, Maz­ibuko feels strongly that his sacri­fice was hardly worth it, say­ing that con­di­tions high­lighted by the #FeesMustFall move­ment are much the same as what he fought for.

“Here is my apol­ogy to the #FeesMustFall stu­dents: Af­ter 1994, the lead­ers, many of my own com­rades, left you young peo­ple lead­er­less. We rushed to Par­lia­ment to be called MPs, we rushed to the BEEs.”

Re­gard­ing the re­ported R460 mil­lion in dam­age to univer­sity prop­erty by protest­ing stu­dents, Maz­ibuko says it could have been avoided if the stu­dents had been heard from the be­gin­ning.

“We paid the price for this free­dom, but where are we now? Why are our chil­dren still not get­ting the best ed­u­ca­tion? Why are our uni­ver­si­ties still as they were?

“Why are our schools still the same as they were when I was young? Tell me, what has changed? Did I fight for this? Was this the free­dom I fought for? Is this the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion that made me suf­fer so much?”


Seth Maz­ibuko Seth Maz­ibuko was a 16-year-old ac­tivist in 1976

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