Mabasa re­calls what the class of 1976 fought for

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MASABATA MKWANANZI @Sa­bie_M

“THE WEEK be­fore June 16, 1976, we re­ceived a re­port from stu­dents about the events that they were tak­ing part in, at Or­lando West ju­nior re­gard­ing Afrikaans as a medium of in­struc­tion.”

These were the words of Tiyani Ly­bon Mabasa as he took us back to his mem­o­ries of the “Soweto up­ris­ing”. The up­ris­ing which be­gan in Soweto in 1976, spread coun­try­wide and pro­foundly changed the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal land­scape in South Africa.

Mabasa was ex­pelled from the Univer­sity of Tur­floop (Lim­popo) in 1975 be­cause he didn’t have enough money to pay off his de­gree. How­ever, he is now the mem­ber of the stu­dent trust board which or­gan­ises funds for stu­dents to con­tinue with their stud­ies.

Af­ter be­ing ex­pelled, he joined the Black Peo­ple’s Con­ven­tion (BPC) and was a leader for com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

Mabasa took us on a trip down mem­ory lane as he re­called events that led to the Soweto up­ris­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Mabasa, the BPC had or­gan­ised a meet­ing with par­ents to talk about Afrikaans be­ing the medium of in­struc­tion be­fore the up­ris­ing took place. The par­ents were sup­port­ing them on the march that was go­ing to take place.

Mabasa, who was a teacher then, said they had re­ceived a let­ter the week be­fore the up­ris­ing, in­form­ing them about the protests to stop the gov­ern­ment from forc­ing Afrikaans to be their medium of in­struc­tion.

“When you are told that start­ing from next week or to­mor­row all your sub­jects will be in Afrikaans, one can imag­ine how dif­fi­cult it was for the class of ’76.

“So the stu­dents started re­sist­ing the re­po­si­tion of the lan­guage,” said Mabasa.

How­ever, the re­sis­tance went fur­ther be­cause the face of op­pres­sion had be­come Afrikaans. As a re­sult, the pupils felt that by agree­ing to this new school­ing law, it would seem like they were agree­ing to be op­pressed by the gov­ern­ment.

Mabasa re­called that on the morn­ing of June 16, pupils started to mo­bilise at al­most all the high schools in Soweto for a day of ac­tion.

“The stu­dents were sup­posed to march to Or­lando High and come up with a mem­o­ran­dum to hand over to the gov­ern­ment, stat­ing the rea­sons why they can­not be forced to study in Afrikaans,” he said.

Mabasa was a teacher at Mead­ow­lands High school and a few months be­fore the up­ris­ing, most of the stu­dents went into exile to pre­pare for June 16.

“Al­most my en­tire class left the coun­try and the po­lice thought I was re­spon­si­ble for them go­ing to exile,” said Mabaso.

Mabasa told The Star that on the morn­ing of June 16,,./ he went to school and on his way he saw a lot of pupils pass­ing and some were ask­ing if he knew about the march.

“I told them ‘yes’ but I did not want to get into it,” he said.

As Mabasa ar­rived at Mead­ow­lands High, he saw a lot of pupils pass­ing and that’s when the po­lice started shoot­ing pupils in Or­lando next to the Un­cle Tom’s Hall.

He gath­ered a few teach­ers and started walk­ing from Or­lando High to Or­lando West.

“When we ar­rived, the po­lice were shoot­ing at the stu­dents, us­ing tear­gas and stu­dents were run­ning ev­ery­where, it was

‘When you are told that all your sub­jects will be in Afrikaans, one can imag­ine how dif­fi­cult it was’


“In the af­ter­noon, the army was start­ing to come into the town­ships and we started ne­go­ti­at­ing our way out. My younger brother, who was present at the Sizwe stores gath­er­ing led by Soweto Stu­dents Rep­re­sen­ta­tive pres­i­dent Tsi­etsi Mashinini, told me how Mashinini had held his hand up high.

“He made a power sign and shouted to the crowd ‘black power, black power’,” Mabasa re­called.

As we com­mem­o­rate June 16, Mabasa pleaded with the com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially the youth, to re­mem­ber what the Class of 1976 fought for.

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