Re­spect Au­gust 4, 1976

The ‘Hec­tor Pi­eter­i­sa­tion’ of the June 16 up­ris­ing has over­shad­owed this his­toric day

Cape Argus - - OPINION - MALESELA STEVE LEBELO Lebelo is an au­thor and his­to­rian

CON­TIN­UED “Hec­tor Pi­eter­i­sa­tion” of the 1976 mass in­sur­rec­tion is a deadly weapon in the hands of those com­mit­ted to the den­i­gra­tion of the black rad­i­cal tra­di­tion (BRT).

It en­ables the ob­fus­ca­tion of the greater sig­nif­i­cance of Au­gust 4, 1976, as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the his­tory of 20th-cen­tury anti-colo­nial strug­gles and val­i­dates po­lit­i­cal al­ter­na­tives that were largely un­in­tel­li­gi­ble.

It is con­sis­tent with the his­tor­i­cal era­sure anti-colo­nial strug­gles in­spired by a black rad­i­cal par­a­digm that are sub­jected to in his­to­ri­og­ra­phy.

Key mile­stones of the mass in­sur­rec­tion of June 16, 1976 to Oc­to­ber 1977 were spawned by and ra­di­ated from the events of Au­gust 4, 1976. Yet the sig­nif­i­cance of the cam­paign of Au­gust 4, 1976, con­tin­ues to be over­shad­owed by the em­bod­ied vic­tim­hood dis­played in “the Hec­tor Pi­eter­i­sa­tion” of the 1976 mass in­sur­rec­tion.

The cam­paign of Au­gust 4, 1976, was twofold. First, it was a stu­dent march to John Vorster Square po­lice head­quar­ters in down­town Jo­han­nes­burg to de­mand the re­lease of all po­lit­i­cal de­tainees.

Se­condly, Soweto’s work­ing pop­u­la­tion was urged to stay away from work from Au­gust 4 to 6 of that year.

The ra­tio­nale be­hind this tac­tic was to shift the lo­cus and the­atre of vi­o­lence from Soweto to white so­ci­ety’s en­vi­rons in down­town Jo­han­nes­burg.

On June 16, 1976, stu­dents marched to Or­lando sta­dium and were met with po­lice and army vi­o­lence that was con­tained within the town­ships.

Ex­pec­ta­tions were that po­lice and the army would fol­low stu­dents into Jo­han­nes­burg. If a vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion en­sued, it would be con­tained within the city.

As it turned out, po­lice and army were de­ployed at ev­ery en­trance and exit of Soweto to pre­vent the march from leav­ing the town­ship. Stu­dents were pushed back into the streets and neigh­bour­hoods of Soweto.

As the day pro­gressed, po­lice and the army re­sorted to the use of live am­mu­ni­tion, with deadly con­se­quences. Sta­tis­tics will show that there were more fa­tal­i­ties on Au­gust 4, 1976, than on any day in the 16-month-long mass in­sur­rec­tion.

Another crit­i­cal as­pect of the 1976 mass in­sur­rec­tion was its char­ac­ter as a clas­sic case of mass or­gan­i­sa­tion as op­posed to or­gan­i­sa­tion and mo­bil­i­sa­tion for the masses.

Stu­dents, out-of-school youth and Soweto’s work­ing pop­u­la­tion were all com­mit­ted to the re­al­i­sa­tion of the mass in­sur­rec­tion’s stated ob­jec­tives.

It is sig­nif­i­cant that be­tween 85% and 90% of Soweto’s work­ing pop­u­la­tion heeded the call and stayed home.

Such a pro­found sense of uni­fy­ing of pur­pose, of one­ness, was not only un­prece­dented. It also de­ter­mined the form and func­tion of vi­o­lence pro­voked or gen­er­ated by the mass in­sur­rec­tion.

Just as there was a con­certed ef­fort to shift the lo­cus of vi­o­lence away from Soweto, there was also no ap­petite to de­ploy vi­o­lence against any seg­ments of the town­ship’s pop­u­la­tion.

Po­lice from neigh­bour­hoods in Soweto were de­ployed in towns across the Pre­to­ria-Wit­wa­ter­srand-Vereenig­ing (PWV) cor­ri­dor, presently Gaut­eng Province, when un­rest spread to those ar­eas.

In its cov­er­age of un­rest in At­teridgevil­le and Mamelodi near Pre­to­ria, the Sun­day Times pub­lished a pho­to­graph of a Diep­kloof po­lice­man aim­ing his re­volver at a flee­ing crowd of pro­test­ers.

The Diep­kloof com­mu­nity did not have the ap­petite or the vi­o­lent dispositio­n to do to the po­lice­man what ram­pag­ing mobs of pro­test­ers did to those con­sid­ered ene­mies of the revolution in the 1980s.

Had there been more than just a pass­ing in­ter­est in the events of Au­gust 4, 1976, his­to­ri­ans would have as­cer­tained that the mantra “black lives mat­ter” was the doc­trine that in­spired the 1976 mass in­sur­rec­tion, even though it was not as­serted at the time.

It is against this back­drop that Credo Mutwa’s claim of be­ing bru­tally at­tacked in Septem­ber 1976 has to be sub­jected to closer scru­tiny.

Po­lice­men known to have killed and maimed black pro­test­ers were not sub­jected to any vi­o­lent re­crim­i­na­tion. They pre­sented a moral dilemma for the masses be­cause they were black and their lives mat­tered.

Why would the masses in Septem­ber 1976 have sub­jected Mutwa to such hor­rific acts of vi­o­lence as he de­scribed to the me­dia in the 1990s?

The sim­ple an­swer is that the masses did not do that. Mutwa’s claims were made 20 years af­ter the event, when he was in his sev­en­ties. A mea­sure of se­nil­ity may have fudged his rec­ol­lec­tions.

Mutwa was at­tacked again early in the 1980s dur­ing a new wave of mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion that bore no re­sem­blance to the 1976 in­sur­rec­tion.

Claims of rape be­ing a fac­tor in the at­tack makes it more un­likely that it could be as­so­ci­ated with the 1976 mass in­sur­rec­tion.

Those that joined the ANC were drafted into its mil­i­tary wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK). They formed a de­tach­ment that was mis­named “the June 16 de­tach­ment”.

“Au­gust 4 de­tach­ment” would have been more ap­pro­pri­ate and fit­ting. But even in the nam­ing of the de­tach­ment was a com­mit­ment to his­tor­i­cal era­sure of the sig­nif­i­cance of Au­gust 4, 1976.

South Africa needs to spare a thought for Au­gust 4, 1976. Next year, on the oc­ca­sion of the 45th an­niver­sary, the date de­mands to be com­mem­o­rated with the re­spect and recog­ni­tion it de­serves.

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THE pri­mary his­tor­i­cal fo­cus on the June 16 youth up­ris­ing in Soweto – de­picted in the im­age above – de­tracts from and di­min­ishes the greater sig­nif­i­cance of the sub­se­quent events of Au­gust 4, 1976, as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the his­tory of 20th-cen­tury anti-colo­nial strug­gles, con­tends the writer.

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