Respect August 4, 1976
The ‘Hector Pieterisation’ of the June 16 uprising has overshadowed this historic day
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.
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.