How Tsi­etsi’s re­solve saved us

Spear­headed the stu­dent re­sis­tance

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - TANKISO “TANK” MAKHETHA @Tankmaester

‘WE CAN­NOT sup­press Tsi­etsi’s (legacy) for a long time,” says Dee Mashinini, who saw his brother tran­scend the role of a stu­dent leader. He ob­served his brother be­come a cham­pion who stood against gen­er­a­tional chal­lenges faced by the youth of South Africa.

Tsi­etsi, along with stu­dent lead­ers from schools around Soweto, were placed at the head of the re­sis­tance and vowed not to be­tray their mis­sion.

He didn’t ex­pect to live a long life. Tsi­etsi died un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances in exile, weeks be­fore he was due to re­turn to South Africa in 1990.

Dee quotes the #FeesMustFall leader, Bu­sisiwe Se­abe, who spoke at the sec­ond an­nual Tsi­etsi Mashinini Lecture at Mor­ris Isaac­son High School last week­end, and ques­tioned whether the ba­ton rep­re­sent­ing the strug­gle for free and de­colonised ed­u­ca­tion had been passed down from the youth of 1976.

“If you gave us the ball and we dropped it or didn’t take it from you, or you failed to hand us the ball, what hap­pened in-be­tween? #FeesMustFall and June 16… rev­o­lu­tions are in­formed by is­sues of the day.

“No­body thought that Tsi­etsi would fight against Afrikaans and apartheid. It’s funny that, 41 years later, stu­dents from ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions would be fight­ing against sim­i­lar is­sues that our youth fought against,” Dee says.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing that South Africa’s democ­racy is still rel­a­tively young, Dee laments that the key is­sues that faced the broader so­ci­ety are yet to be ad­dressed.

“The gov­ern­ment came up with the TRC (Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion) and Codesa (Con­ven­tion for a Demo­cratic South Africa) and agree­ments on the con­sti­tu­tion, but they for­got the is­sues of the peo­ple in-be­tween and fo­cused on the man­age­ment of the coun­try.”

He says strug­gles for key na­tion­build­ing com­po­nents were ne­glected when the op­por­tu­nity to deal with them was pre­sented.

“A strug­gle of ed­u­ca­tion, of land, of lan­guages and cul­tures can­not be stopped by bury­ing Tsi­etsi per­ma­nently. The is­sues that Tsi­etsi stood up against were more than those of Afrikaans be­ing used as a medium of in­struc­tion.

“Be­cause when he was ad­dress­ing the United Na­tions, he did not say ‘I am a stu­dent leader from Mor­ris Isaac­son – he said I am a South African and I am here on be­half of my peo­ple, who are car­ry­ing pass books and are not al­lowed into white ar­eas, whose moth­ers and fa­thers are gold-dig­gers. He spoke about all those things and not just against Afrikaans.”

Dee de­scribes his brother as a “nor­mal kid” in Soweto fac­ing the same chal­lenges as other youth of the day. “(Tsi­etsi was) a nor­mal stu­dent, but ex­traor­di­nar­ily bril­liant in class be­cause he read books that were out­side the cur­ricu­lum,” he says about Tsi­etsi’s in­sa­tiable hunger for knowl­edge.

“We are a big fam­ily. By the late 1990s, 12 of my sib­lings were still alive. So there was al­ways a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity in­stilled in us – when one group grows older, they take care of the next group, and so forth.”

This is where, ac­cord­ing to Dee, Tsi­etsi was in­stilled with a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. “His time at Mor­ris Isaac­son is de­fined by a young fel­low who was into sport, mainly karate, in which he ac­quired a black belt.

“At the time, the area around Jabavu was en­gulfed in gang­ster­ism that con­sti­tuted mug­gings and rape, which was meted out to girls and to our par­ents who were com­ing back from work.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dee, Tsi­etsi mo­bilised his fel­low pupils and “hunted down” crim­i­nals who were ter­ror­is­ing the streets of Jabavu.

“It was hap­pen­ing all over Soweto. It was very se­ri­ous. When Tsi­etsi led stu­dents to clean up the sec­tion around Mor­ris Isaac­son by hunt­ing down the crim­i­nals who ter­rorised the com­mu­nity – we all knew where they lived – it was sorted out. The stu­dents were safe af­ter that.”

Tsi­etsi was a Black Con­scious­ness en­thu­si­ast, sub­scrib­ing to the ide­ol­ogy through­out his life. Dee re­calls the times when Steve Biko, the Black Con­scious­ness leader, would dis­creetly visit their home in the mid­dle of the night to speak to Tsi­etsi. This oc­curred months be­fore June 16, he says.

“There was a guy who used to come and knock on the win­dow in the mid­dle of the night look­ing for Tsi­etsi. When he woke up and left the house, he would be gone for a day or two. Years later, it turned out that the guy who woke him up was Steve Biko,” he adds.

“They were the peo­ple work­ing in this lib­er­a­tion field at the time, and they saw a leader with out­stand­ing qual­i­ties in Tsi­etsi.”

He at­tributes this to Tsi­etsi’s in­tro­duc­tion to the Black Con­scious­ness school of thought.

“That’s how it trans­lated into June 16, be­cause at this point, he (Tsi­etsi) be­came very busy… He would be ad­dress­ing stu­dents all over the coun­try.”

Fol­low­ing the events of the up­ris­ing, Tsi­etsi be­came dis­creet, sur­round­ing him­self with a se­cu­rity net­work that kept him hid­den.

“I don’t know how he man­aged to evade the po­lice. All I know is that he wanted to come home; this was af­ter June 16 when the schools were closed. Our home was sur­rounded by po­lice who camped out­side our house be­cause they wanted Tsi­etsi.

“But as time went by, they left and only one po­lice of­fi­cer camped out­side our home and sat across our house. There was some veld there and he would be dis­guised as an old man.”

Dee re­calls how Tsi­etsi used to find a way of en­ter­ing the house with­out be­ing spot­ted. “In those mo­ments, my fa­ther would try to tell him to stop what he was do­ing be­cause guys like OR Tambo and Nel­son Man­dela were in prison for the same things, but my brother didn’t care. He was al­ways on the move and al­ways busy.”

His brother made a fur­ther mock­ery of the po­lice when, while ad­dress­ing stu­dents at Mor­ris Isaac­son a few months af­ter the up­ris­ing, po­lice got word of Tsi­etsi’s pres­ence at the school.

“One day they found out that Tsi­etsi was at Mor­ris Isaac­son ad­dress­ing the stu­dents. Po­lice sur­rounded the school, forc­ing all the stu­dents to exit through a sin­gle gate. One by one they as­sessed each stu­dent leav­ing the school, and he man­aged to walk out, dressed as a school­girl.

“June 16 was a prod­uct of the stu­dents, it gal­vanised the Strug­gle against apartheid, while di­rectly feed­ing lib­er­a­tion move­ments with thou­sands of young peo­ple. At the time, all the move­ments had been banned and were lack­lus­tre; their lead­ers were in prison or had been forced into exile.

“It al­lowed them to wake up to the Strug­gle. The youth of 1976 led the last push for the end to apartheid,” he says.

Gov­ern­ment for­got about the peo­ple and fo­cused on man­ag­ing the coun­try

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: BETHUEL MANGENA

PIC­TURE: SIMPHIWE MBOKAZI

HON­OUR­ING BROTHER’S MEM­ORY: Dee Mashinini speaks about his brother Tsi­etsi and the up­ris­ing of June 16, 1976.

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