The day in '76 when all hell broke loose in Langa

2016-06-17 13:30

This photograph is part of the exhibition, 1976/360 at the Centre for African Studies Gallery, UCT. (Peter Magubane, via GroundUp)

Cape Town - While many people associate June 16, 1976, with Soweto, pupils also protested in Cape Town and elsewhere in the months that followed.

Kenneth Fassie was a pupil at Langa High School, Cape Town, in 1976.

Fassie’s brother, Themba, who bears a striking resemblance to their famous sister Brenda Fassie, spoke to GroundUp about his experiences, along with his classmates at the time: Baba Zondi, Ketani "Chisa" Katanga, and Terrence ‘Tapepa’ Makhubalo.

Kenneth Fassie was 17 at the time and in Form 3 (now Grade 10). They were writing exams when Soweto exploded.

"When we came back to school after the exams, the staff room was like a police station. Police were there and they provoked us, searching us for petrol bombs. After a month of harassment from police, we held a meeting where we used to sit, in a place we called Betane," says Fassie.

Betane was an open space, not far from the school where pupils who were excluded from school for not paying fees would go to avoid going home.

On August 10 that year, they met on the school soccer field, where they decided to march to the Langa police station the following day, in solidarity with the pupils in Soweto and against the government’s decision to impose Afrikaans as a language of instruction in schools.

Katanga was 20 and in Form 4 (Grade 12).

"When we were leaving the school on the 11th - it was in the morning because we didn’t even attend mass - there were police everywhere with dogs. We were holding placards and they told us we are going to intimidate the younger children.

"On first attempt, we got shot at and some people were arrested. We then went back to our meeting place and we decided to go again. The second time we had placards that said, 'Release our fellow students - we are not fighting'.

"We had not even crossed the road to get to the police station and they shot at us," says Kantanga.

He remembers the name of every road they took to get to the police station.

The protest was meant to be peaceful. Xolile Mosie, 17, was the first student to be shot and killed in Cape Town. Pupils threw stones in retaliation. Police used live ammunition. Many were injured.

"We were young and active and Xolile was hyper. He was dancing around and was right there. The police who were in front are the ones who shot him. We still do not know who shot him," says Katanga.

Mosie died immediately. Katanga says that "all hell broke loose".

His body lay on the side of the road for an hour before police arrived and unceremoniously threw it onto the back of a bakkie.

Makhubalo was the organiser of the meetings they held – daily at the time. He was detained more than once. He refuses to talk about some of his experiences.

When people were arrested, they were tortured and police tried to turn them into spies, he says.

"This caused a lack of trust among each other because there were now snitches and many people decided to skip the country. You did not know who to talk to or who not to talk to," he says.

Meetings were moved from Fezeka High School in Gugulethu to ID Mkhize High School to confuse police.

Community joins the protest

After the Mosie’s death, residents joined the protests. Shops were looted and burnt, as were schools. Youths made the township ungovernable.

Katanga says police went door-to-door, searching for people.

"They would come at 5am, searching for students from Langa High School. They would threaten our parents, saying if we do not go to the police station they will kill us, and some of the parents had no choice but to say 'yes' when they were asked.”

Kenneth Fassie went into exile. He returned in 1992, after 15 years away from his family.

"No one wanted to go and leave their families behind, but we had no choice. We had to go for our safety," he says.

Violence became a part of life. The mere sight of the police would start stone throwing.

"People started talking about the release of the prisoners on Robben Island. As students, we had no political affiliation at the time, but because the underground movements were political, they used that as an opportunity to recruit people. And as more adults joined, the protests became more political. It became more about black consciousness," says Fassie.

Schools closed

Although most pupils did not return to school, many have made something of themselves, Katanga says.

"For the rest of 1976, there was no school. In January, people were given the choice to go and write exams and go back to class, but some people chose not to; some could not because they had gone to exile."

Later in 1976, police used a group known at that time as "Amabhaca", from Nyanga East, as a shield. Langa residents walked street by street to recruit men to fight the Amabhaca.

Police heard of the plans and many people were shot and injured. Some were killed.

Baba Zondi, who was 18 at the time, says the protests went quiet and then flared up again in 1980.

Asked what they thought of the recent violence and destruction at some schools and universities, Zondi says: "We wish they would stop destroying the resources they already have. We are against the burning of schools. We did not burn the schools as students. It was when the broader community joined that schools were burnt. We had no plans of doing that."

- See the full story on GroundUp


Read more on:    cape town  |  youth day  |  soweto40

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