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Dan Mofokeng recalls the days immediately before the 1976 Soweto students' insurrection

By unknown | Jun 15, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The following is an extract from the book - Soweto '76: Reflections on the liberation struggles - published by the Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust, marking the 30th anniversary of the student uprisings.

The following is an extract from the book - Soweto '76: Reflections on the liberation struggles - published by the Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust, marking the 30th anniversary of the student uprisings.

"My name is Dan Mohato Mofokeng. I was born in Lantley in the then Orange Free State on February 20 1956.

We migrated to Johannesburg in 1963, where I started my schooling in 1965 in Naledi, Soweto. Thereafter in 1973 I went to Naledi High, where I became active in school debates. In the process I became politicised.

I don't think my life as a young boy in Naledi, Soweto, was different from any other boy of my age. I was fond of playing soccer. We used to fight as young boys with stones catties - what we called skiet rekkers.

It was a very interesting part of my life. Having all the friends and playing soccer. I was also engaged in athletics. Indeed, my life was just like any other ghetto boy who enjoyed the vibrancy that you find in any location like Soweto.

I was more into sports. Besides sports, I was a churchgoer. I was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a young boy.

So I grew up being some sort of highly religious entity. That was aided also by the socialisation, the social life in Soweto.

But I must say, if I am to be objective in as far as my politicisation is concerned, it started in the debating society at Naledi High. We used to debate. We broke that element of shyness.

The debating sessions also attracted advanced students who were no longer part of Naledi High. They frequented the school and started talking politics. Some of them are in very high positions today, such as Frank Chikane, now in the presidency - he is the director-general.

I attended meetings of, for instance, the Student Christian Movement (SASM). Mostly in my school it took the form of the debate. I will not say in my case it was systematic. It was more spontaneous. And to set the record straight, the people who started the movement towards '76 were the junior secondary schools.

It happened one day, the Special Branch came to collect somebody - two students who belonged to the Student Christian Movement. It was lunch time. Other schools already created the atmosphere. We heard about the protest . so we felt it was some sort of provocation by the police to enter the school and to arrest those two students.

Motapanyane was mishandled, and that agitated us a lot. There was the mob psychology ... and we said no. Now what happened?

Somebody threw a stone at the police and all of us threw stones. The police ran and locked themselves in one of the offices. The stones broke windows.

That's how it basically started and affected us at Naledi High. And it happened that while we were looking at the reaction of these policemen, suddenly their Volkswagen behind the library was overturned and burned.

And then there was reinforcement. For the first time we saw a convoy of policemen surrounding the school with their dogs.

The police fired tear gas. It was the first time some of us experienced tear gas.

Initially we said it was just the smoke, its another kind of smoke, and all that time we were sneezing. Everything went helter-skelter. We were forced to help the girls jump the fence. You know Naledi High had a very high fence. So we could not leave the girls behind. We had to push them over the fence. It was quite brutal because most of us got serious scratches there.

After that incident the atmosphere was highly charged. Whenever we got to school we were not sure whether we would come back. The classes were no longer in order. And the other thing is that we were supposed to be writing half-yearly exams.

We were supposed to write our English paper that day. But with uncertainty because there was this threat. This man Jimmy Kruger (then minister of justice) said Naledi High must be taught a lesson. Naledi High showed people that government property can be burnt, can be destroyed.

That morning of June 16 was well planned, led by student leaders such as Motapanyane, Khotso Seathlolo, Popo Simon Molefe and many others I can't remember. We marched that morning, very energetic and blocking the traffic. We marched from Naledi High to Thomas Mofolo, collecting others.

There was also Batswana Junior Secondary around there. We were collecting other junior secondary schools, Tladi, Moletsane, right up to Phefeni Station. We were collecting almost everybody.

It was a very huge march . It was very peaceful because nobody got injured yet. Actually our aim and the aim of the student leaders then was to go to Orlando Stadium to discuss the Afrikaans language issue.

We collected all those interested. Somehow we forced some of the people to join the march so that it got the necessary muscle and magnitude and strength. So we marched until around Phefeni Station. It was then that we got the news that a student was shot and others injured.

We did not feel the strain of marching from Naledi to Orlando West, because we were singing. I am still imagining how it was possible for me to walk from Naledi to Dryhooek, to Orlando and back.

After the uprising, the political organisations started fishing, recruiting students. I got hooked in the PAC structure. The actual person who recruited me was the late Dr Naboth Ntshuntsha, who was banned at the time. He organised the hideouts, the routes and funds.

I was 20 years old. I always say by then the umbilical cord is not yet cut. But we were highly agitated. We decided then we were leaving the country. And we got this contact of the PAC.

A few of my friends, boys and girls, went into hiding. And then it was organised that we got to Swaziland.

We left our homes because the minute you became active the police visited your home.

We were put in various places until we left the country via Swaziland. They organised with the United Nations to fly us to Dar es Salaam. My group was the last one to fly East Africa Community Airways. That was the first time I flew in an aircraft.

Then the security police killed Dr Ntshuntsha. He was "skinned alive". I'm still worried that his death was not given a higher profile like other people killed in detention.

I got that report when I was in Dar es Salaam. He was killed just after we left."


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