Mabasa recalls what the class of 1976 fought for
“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.