Cosas is born, schools stand together

2015-09-23 06:00


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EXACTLY 36 years ago I became the first chairperson of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) in the Free State. Cosas was established in 1979, under the leadership of the late Ephraim Mogale.

My deputy was Gauta “Jomo” Lefuo, former first mayor of Botshabelo. Our secretary was “Mbole” Magonare and her deputy was the late Matshepo “Ntshepu” Makhetha and treasurer Diba Goliath.

Most of us were the victims of harassment, torture and detentions without trial.

I also want to make mention of the unity and discipline that prevailed among the members of Cosas at the time, and that was highly commendable and I wish that today’s youth organisation would learn from that.

All high schools in Mangaung were represented and that made our work very simple as we could reach all the schools at once if there was any information we would like to send or share with them.

As Cosas of 1979, we had enough additional members who were equally cooperative and hard working.

To be honest, additional members were just as good as the executive because if an executive member was absent we could easily resort to an additional member as an alternative.

Some of our prominent additional members were the late Lathabo Kamanga, the late Papi Hlubi, Maseng Mahabane, the late Barnard Maetlane, Magic Khotseng, the late Moreng “white” Thebe, the late Tebogo “Shakes” Leshabane, Cameron Kopane, Raymond Seitshiro, Tshidi Mokunyane, Mphafi Kgang, Lebogang Ditaunyane, Oupa Mokele, the late Kenosi Thulo, Oupa Mothupi, Strike Dikgwele, “Big Fellow” Lepheane, Martin Khani “the Bull” Ntshediseng, Moses Tsatsinyane, Papi Mnumzana, “Killer” Mohale, the late Molale Mokhooa and Sandi Khuzwayo, just to mention a few.

All of the above-mentioned comrades represented all different high schools in Mangaung, viz. Sehunelo, Lereko, Vulamasango, Moemedi, Ikaelelo and St Bernard. Of course two primary schools were also represented, namely Legae and Batho.

The turning point for Mangaung’s struggle against apartheid and Afrikaans as a medium of instructions was 1980 and a dynamic, free and compulsory education for all was demanded.

Mangaung was set ablaze and was brought to a complete standstill, and there was literally no schooling in all the high schools and few primary schools.

This came about as a result of the detention without trial of three primary school teachers of Legae and Batho who were detained under section 24 of the Terrorism Act, namely: Mathatha Letshabo, Sekwere and Tebogo Sejanamane, whose whereabouts are still unkown.

These teachers were also notoriously known as “the three musketeers” for their role in organising and starting to conscientise the youth to stand up and fight for their rights.

They were in and out of prison and were eventually send to the Modderbee Maximum Prison near Benoni, where we met the likes of Pitso Melamu, Dr Joe Variava of the Coronation Hospital and Yunis Schaik.

It all started with a mass meeting on the night of Saturday, 18 May, at the Johnson Bendile Stadium and followed by the other on the night of 19 May 1980 at a meeting held at Diphoko Tshitlo’s home at Mathambo Street, Bochabela.

We were grouped and given tasks and were deployed to different schools in the morning of Monday, 20 May 1980, to cause disruptions and converge at the Sehunelo High School.

That morning, Legae Primary School pupils refused to go to their classes and started a protest march by singing freedom songs and marched to Batho Primary to force pupils out.

They then proceeded to the Sehunelo High School where they were received by members of Cosas, of whom I was one, and we knew already about the plan that they would be coming.

The police came, but we closed all the main entrances to the Sehunelo and Lereko High Schools.

Students at these two high schools were forced out to join the protest.

Students joined forces to break and bring down the dividing wall erected to divide the Lereko and Sehunelo High School and it was notoriously known as “the wall of partition” or “the wall of Berlin”.

The wall was successfully brought down, but then the riot squad policemen broke the school gates and there was pandemonium as everybody ran in all directions for cover.

Dogs were set on students and some fell from the ceiling were they hid themselves.

There were beatings and teargas all over the place. Scores of students were injured and some were detained.

) This is part two of a four-part series about the role of youth in the struggle for freedom in Mangaung between 1977 and 1981.

) Part three will be published next week

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