May the memories of 1976 spur us to action

opinionThembile Ndabeni
opinionThembile Ndabeni

June 16 has its roots at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto and spread to Cape Town on 11 August 1976.

The uprising was against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in all subject, excluding the vernacular.

In Cape Town, the students refused to go to class after the morning assembly and chose to write placards emblazoned with: “Away with Afrikaans,”

“Afrikaans is the language of the oppressors”.

According to Zolile Sonqishe, he, together with Malusi Sotshononda and Mzimkhulu Nikani started opposing Afrikaans as far back as 1971 and as a result were expelled from Langa High School.

In 1976 I was still at Insthinga Higher Primary School in Gugulethu.

At the school, we had no better leader than Fezile “Feya” Mvula.

One teacher even chased him around, hurling bricks at him like he was exorcising a demon.

However, “Feya” didn’t remonstrate nor fight back, choosing to flee from an elder and a teacher.

The songs went thus: Senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, senzeni na, sono sethu, sono sethu yintoni na, sono sethu yintoni na, sono sethu, sono sethu bubumnyama!

And: Sizowadubula ngombhayi-mbhayi, ayabaleka dubula ngombhayi-mbhayi, sizowadubula, dubula, dubula ngombhayi-mbhayi!

Still: Ngamhla sibuyayo, ngamhla sibuyayo, ngamhla sibuyayo lophalal’igazi. Lalenj’u Vorster, lalenj’u Botha, lalenj’u Malan, lalenj’u Kruger lophalal’igazi!

The hymn: Jerusalem ikhaya lam endlithandayo, Umz’omhle kune Eden enguna phakade, umz’omhle kune Eden enguna phakade, umz’omhle kune Eden enguna phakade, umz’ongangenwa sono, ndiyakulangazelela Jerusalem’entsha!

The common slogan was “Black Power” or “Black is Beautiful”. Other freedom songs popular at the time were, “Khulul’uMandela asikhokhele”,“Joshua Nkomo khawusilwele kula Mabhulu.”

“Feya’ and his ilk, compelled by circumstances at the time had to leave the country.

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the 1976 uprising but I never heard of an event held in their honour in Cape Town.

I had expected to see a commemoration in his honour.

Even the likes of Khaya Magodla passed on without being given the honour they deserved.

Any history projects around the riots of 1976 in Cape Town should be about them.

The government should sponsor activities to create awareness about them.

It was a planned and not a spontaneous programme by Black Consciousness Movement. We were young and following the leaders.

But it was not only Black students, but Coloured students were involved as well.

There were also student boycotts at the University of the Western Cape and other secondary schools.

Activists like David Evertson and Cecil Esau emerged from these protests.

Not all of us returned to school the following year, because we were arrested, disappeared, went into exile and some lost their lives, while some were maimed for life.

I don’t think the number of people who died from that uprising is well accounted for because the authorities censured information for public consumption.

In Langa, learner Xolile Mosie was killed. In section three in Gugulethu, three other learners were killed, namely Lucky Ndibaza, Mvuselelo Ntleko and Mzimkhulu Ndingane. Mzimkhulu was about four years younger than Hector Pieterson, the first teen to die from the 1976 students uprising.

Credit must also be due to policemen like Tata Majikela and others who refused to shoot at their ‘own’ children by disobeying instructions from their white seniors, a rare stance in those days. We must all play our party in remembering our fallen young.

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