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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Research Findings

Phase 2 of the Hector Pieterson Research Project ended in September 2007. Here is a list of research findings and constraints:

  • There are number of meeting places and social networks which provided support to the students during the planning stages of the uprisings. The house of Mr. Mbatha and Titi Mthenjana stand out in particular. Oupa Moloto is certain of the existance of further landmarks in White City, however he is struggling to remember where they are.
  • Naledi demontrates a rich political history, which this research process has only touched on. There are a number of homes belonging to student leaders which still need to be located.
  • The history of the conflicts between hostel dwellers and township residents presents an important perspective social dynamics within Soweto. The geographic proximately of Jabulani Hostels to the newly developed 1976 Heroes Acre presents an opportunity to communicate this historically important relationship to new visitors.
  • There are a number of Important landmarks pertinent to Hector Pieterson’s childhood life which need to be identified. Hector’s creche, the local shop, Hector’s School and the swimming pool in Central Western Jabavu are all important landmarks in the historical landscape of 1976.
  • Diepkloof also has a rich history that has rarely received attention. According to Steve Lebelo, Diepkloof offers an ideal terrain to examine how forms of extended social networks developing since mass resettlement of communities in the 1950s and strengthened by the unifying ideology of Black Consciousness during the 1970s, broke down in the face of new political identities.
  • Research into the life of Mbuyiso Makhoba needs to be prioritised. Not much is known about this important person who was immortalised in Sam Nzima’s famous photograph.
  • A small group of students from Vuwani Secondary School continued to march from Sizwe Stores to Orlando West. Their fate is still unknown.
  • Limited information on the uprisings in Tshiawelo has restricted this project. Whilst the route from Vuwani Secondary School has been mapped, limited information and particiaption from active particiapnts has hampered the mapping of the route from Sekano Ntoane.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Vuwani Secondary School Route (Chiawelo)

This is the route taken by Reginah Msundiwa, a student at Vuwani Secondary School in Chiawelo. Msundiwa is a qualified nurse an currently works as a research assistant at Baragwnath Hospital.The importance of Msundiwa’s story is that she represents a participant who had no prior knowledge of the march and was surprised when she got to school on that fateful Wednesday morning. Msundiwa elaborates, “ I got to school in the morning and during the assembly students began to sing and we addressed by one of the student leaders - I don’t know his name. He said that today we are marching against Afrikaans. I was surprised, really, I was surprised!”

Vuwani Secondary School is located in Chiawelo in the far south western corner of Soweto. Students planned to march all the way to Orlando West and hoped to collect other students from neighbouring schools along the way. Their plan was to collect students from Sekano Ntoane before proceeding pass Morris Isaacson High School in Central Western Jabvu. However, the plan did not work out as intended as students from neighbouring schools left already.

Students from Vuwani Secondry School were the last group marching on 16 June 1976. They covered a fair distance, avoiding main roads as they ambelled towards Mputhi Street in White City. When the students got to Morris Isaacon High School the school grounds were empty. Msundiwa’s group was adressed by a student leader (not Tsietsie) who warned them about a looming police presence and called for a peaceful and calm protest.

The Vuwani group proceeded on Mputhi Street but a short while later they were met by police. By the time Msundiwa got to the corner of Mputhi and Roodeport Roads, news of the killing of Hector Pieterson and of the white socioogist Dr. Melville Edelstein reached her. Msundiwa remembers running for cover from police who began an assault on her group. The Vuwani group dispersed into the White City landscape, running into adjacent yards and houses in order to avoid gun fire.

Msundiwa’s march along with most students from Vuwani Secondary School ended here, outsdie Sizwe Stores about 10 Km away from Orlando West. A small group from her school continued through Mofolo Park in order to get to Orlando West. Their fate is still unknown.

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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.

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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).

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