You are looking at posts tagged with Cillie Commission.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Events Leading To The Uprisings

In 1974, the Director of Bantu Education in the Southern Transvaal (Mr Ackerman) issued a directive compelling school boards and principals of schools to use Afrikaans as the primary means of instruction. This directive followed an earlier imposition which divided school boards along ethnic lines. This ethnic division ensured that African children from the various ethnic groups would no longer be educated in the same classroom.

Previously, the choice between English and Afrikaans had rested in the hands of the community. With the freedom of choice taken away and with the enforcement of Afrikaans, parents, principals and the tribal school boards were naturally distraught. They saw the injunction as politically motivated and appealed to Ackerman to withdraw his ruling, but he remained unmoved.

The school boards in Soweto combined forces in August 1975 and formed the Federal Council of Transvaal School Boards, in order to deal with the language imposition with one voice. However, resistance to the Afrikaans directive was met with harsh consequences. In February 1976, Ackerman’s board fired members of the Tswana School Board for being too stubborn. Other members of the board resigned and parents of the represented school children supported them in their actions.

A crisis in education had developed. Disillusioned youth had watched their parents and teachers fail in attempts to reverse the Afrikaans instruction directive. On May 17th, students from Phefeni Junior Secondary School refused the imposition of Afrikaans instruction and began a boycott of classes. The students demanded to see the circuit inspector of African schools, M C de Beer. When he refused to meet with them, the students turned to violent action by first damaging the principal’s car and then stoning his office. De Beer reacted by threatening to expel the students but they continued their boycott of classes with the support of four other schools in Soweto.

Students were far more radical than their moderate parents. “Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education system that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth”, wrote a student in a letter to The World newspaper. (Hopkins and Grange 2001)

On June 9 1976, two policemen drove into Naledi High School to arrest a student for questioning. The principal warned them not to do so in the presence of other students. The policeman were confronted by angry students and needed to lock themselves in the principal’s office in order to escape the angry mob of students. Whilst in the principal’s office, the students set the police car alight.

It was around this period, with the banning of the ANC and the PAC, that a political vacuum was created. Leaders of both organizations were subsequently detained. Any political activity which lingered after the Sharpeville massacre ended with the Rivonia Treason Trail and subsequent life long jailing of Nelson Mandela, the ANC President along with others. Black Consciousness was born out of this political vacuum. The Cillie Commission found that the immediate cause of the riots related to the policy on language instruction at school but this was only one of the causes. Other grounds for dissatisfaction included:
  • The black consciousness movement (Cillie:601);
  • Political and military events in South Africa
  • The homelands policy
  • Influx control
  • Actions of the Administration Boards
  • UBC
  • Lack of citizenship related to the homelands policy


  1. The Cillie Commission, (1980): Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the riots at Soweto and other places in the Republic of South Africa during June 1976. Also: Unpublished minutes of evidence Volumes 1-69.
  2. Mashabela, H. (1987): A People on the Boil, Reflections on Soweto, Skotaville, Publishers, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
  3. Hopkins, P. and Helen G. (2001): The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show: The Inside Story of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Cape Town, Zebra Publishers.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The official version of the Soweto Uprisings

Nigel Mandy’s version of the morning of June 16 1976 is based on the findings of the Cillie Commission’s report. He provides justification for the police intervention by questioning the legality of the march. According to Mandy, a 1968 regulation provided that no public meeting or march could be held in Soweto without WRAB’s permission. The Cillie Commission report maintains that police were not aware of the intention of the students to march through the streets. Either way it was their duty to prevent an illegal march. A witness suggested that they should have stopped the students at the school and sent them home. Whether the police would have been successful in such an attempt to prevent the march by thousands of pupils and at the same time to keep the peace, cannot be established with certainty; they were unaware of the intentions and preparations, and therefore no such attempt was made to prevent the march and to keep the peace. As the march advanced a long way by the time police realised what was happening, it was their duty to stop the march and disperse the crowds (Cillie: 106).

Mandy’s version of the confrontation describes how the police convoy stopped about 100 paces from the crowd on Vilikazi Street. Col. Kleingeld shouted for the crowd to stand still. His voice was drowned by the uproar and the sound of stones raining down on his men and vehicles. He did not have a loud hailer and therefore no effective order had been given to the crowd to disperse. (Mandy 1982)

Col. Kleingeld then decided to disperse the crowd with tear gas but only one tear gas canister exploded. This action provoked a rain of stones from the students from all sides. The Colonel fired two warning shots into the air and ordered a baton charge. The baton charge was unsuccessful and two police dogs were killed. (Mandy 1982).

Mandy’s version continues by describing how the outnumbered policemen were encircled by angry students. According to Mandy, the policemen feared for their lives and he justifies the shooting which followed as moderate and controlled, reporting only 2 deaths and 11 injuries during the confrontation. (Mandy 1982:198).

Labels: , ,