1976 Alexandra activist Japie Vilankulu’s life remembered

2016-06-18 09:04
A picture of Japie Vilankulu taken on June 17 1976 taken by Peter Magubane moments before Vilankulu was shot at seven times by security police (Mpho Raborife, News24)

A picture of Japie Vilankulu taken on June 17 1976 taken by Peter Magubane moments before Vilankulu was shot at seven times by security police (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg - When the Vilankulu family received a message from neighbours that their son had been injured during an altercation with the police, Japie Vilankulu's sister says she knew then that her brother would not be returning home.

Talking to reporters at their family home in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg on Friday, Vilankulu's sister Maide Mogotsi reminisced about the events of June 16, 1976 in Soweto.

She said her 23-year-old brother returned home from work that day and expressed grave concern about how the march, which was supposed to be peaceful, had turned chaotic and violent.

"He said how could such an innocent young boy be killed when us older ones who have been part of the movement sit back and do nothing?" Her brother was referring to the death of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson.

Vilankulu decided he would not report to work the next day and would instead mobilise youngsters in Alexandra to go and join the Soweto youth in solidarity.

"That morning he said to me, 'I'm leaving. I'm going to go fetch the kids from the schools. There'll be no school today'."

Seven bullets

Vilankulu proceeded to gather youngsters from schools in the area and the group began making their way out of Alexandra. They were met by the police who blocked them from going any further.

"They shot at him with seven bullets," she says as she recalls the day.

"He defended himself with the lid of a bin and a piece of rock. It was the seventh bullet that hit him in the head that made him fall," she gestures to her head as she speaks.

Soon after that incident, her family was told her brother had been shot.

"I already knew [he was dead] because when we spoke in the morning he said to me, 'Whether I come back or not, it makes no difference. I didn't tell the parents so you can't either'.

"So I knew he was no longer with us."

Street name

Vilankulu's older brother Harrison, his aunt Esther Mabitsela, Maide's husband Bosch Mogotsi and their children Japie (named after his uncle) and Rebecca visited his grave on Friday afternoon.

The family was accompanied by Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane and the party's other senior leaders, including Gauteng leader John Moodey, Johannesburg mayoral candidate Herman Mashaba as well as youth leader Yusuf Cassim.

The party has been trying for years to have a street named after Vilankulu to ensure that his memory lives on in the history books, it says.

Vilankulu had been one of the first young residents to die on that day and his selfless sacrifice should be marked and commemorated, the DA argued.

"While for them, their politics were paid [for] with their lives, many of us can stand up [today] and say we draw inspiration from them because their cause was not about money or benefits," Maimane told the family.

"Like he told you in the morning before he left, he knew that the ultimate sacrifice to pay was his life and I am deeply inspired because Bantu education was an evil system, it belongs in the history books."

The family has hopes that Vilankulu's life would be marked and commemorated. There have been reports that the government was in talks to implement the DA motion to have a street named after him. The motion was brought forward in 2014.


Japie Vilankulu's family in Alexandra (Mpho Raborife,News24)

Japie Vilankulu's family at the Alexandra cemetery. (Mpho Raborife,News24)

Read more on:    soweto  |  johannesburg  |  soweto40  |  youth day

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