Collins Chabane: The Deeper Context of His Life and Times

2015-03-20 11:34

Nkwame Nkrumah the great founder of the African Union once described African psyche and culture: "We have the natural gifts of joyful laughter, a love of music for merrymaking and enjoyment of good company, a lack of malice, an absence of the desire for vengeance".

Collins Chabane is greatly admired for deeply displaying these African virtues in their richness in times when most have strayed away and are now totally living under borrowed myths and alien cosmologies. To this end, there exists this lack of moral capital in society.

Collins Chabane's life took a dramatic turn at the University of the North (Turfloop) between 1979 and 1980.

He came to Turfloop at the time when the eco of the murder of Onkgopotse Abram Tiro was ricocheting and sweeping the University.

It all began in 1972 when Onkgopotse Abram Tiro as SRC President delivered a stinging notorious speech at the university graduation ceremony. The theme of his speech was: There comes a time when people get tiredIt is related that half of the speech he delivered with his eyes closed and in altered consciousness.

Abram Tiro was not a man known for careless talk. He measured his words and selected carefully the methods with which to channel them with devastating psychological strength deep down in the hearts of the audience.

Subsequently Abram Tiro was expelled from the University under the pressure from the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

He was later offered a teaching post in Orlando, Soweto at Morris Isaacson School where he sown the seeds of Soweto Uprising - inspiring young men like Tsietsi Mashinini.

Abram Tiro did not stay long at Morris Isaacson. As history teacher his lessons were subversive and threatened the whole established system of Apartheid. As he will later recall himself that "most of my lessons in the class were about arousing students that if they sit and not protest apartheid injustices they would betray their own sense of dignity".

He flew into exile in Gaborone, Botswana where he was later gruesomely killed by parcel bomb in 1974. It was murder most foul. That is how tyranny conducts its business. Whenever tyranny is confronted with the evidence of its evils, it consults murder. Not just ordinary murder but murder with an attitude.

Abram Tiro’s cousin Patrick Tlhagoane later related what they saw when they went to Botswana to the room where Abram Tiro had received the parcel bomb.  He said the iron coal stove which had been in the middle of the room had been shattered into pieces by the impact of the bomb.

From there, they went to see Abram Tiro’s body at the hospital. When they arrived, the nursing sister in charge asked them if they were sure that they wanted to see the body. They said yes.  The nurse left for a few minutes and returned with some tablets for them to drink before they can see the body.  They said “We do not want the tablets.  Let us feel the pain.”

After seeing whatever remained of Abram Tiro they went home and told the family that ga a bonwe, meaning no one is allowed to see the body.

The effects of this gruesome murder back at the University of the North (Turfloop) were to be telling. Students were driven to the verge of madness. And when young Collins Chabane entered Turfloop in 1979 he was swept across by this thick dark atmosphere.

The murder of Abram Tiro had already thundered at Morris Isaacson School igniting the famous Soweto Uprisings of 16 June 1976 that shattered the world.

This is the essential period that represented an enormous turning point in the history of the liberation.

I know that there are books written that brings the idea that there was already a background of persistent struggle and protest all along and the Soweto uprisings were just a mere logical continuation. That is true of course but it also gives a false impression, because it lacks understanding of the concept of “critical mass”.

The concept of “critical mass” originates in physics, which means an amount of radioactive material needed to cause a nuclear explosion.

Social change only happens when "critical mass" occurs.  Things continue along for a long period in straight path and then events reach a threshold – and then there is a turning point and boom! A loud explosion!

The struggle against Apartheid reached a threshold, a sharp turning point; a “critical mass” with the explosion on 16th of June 1976 Soweto uprisings. Before that the political struggle was just a tinderbox. The Soweto Uprisings was the match stick that struck the tinderbox causing an earth shattering explosion that shook Apartheid to its very core.  From this period on everything went to pieces. Disintegration hovered in the air.

Abram Tiro, Chief Justice Mogoeng swearing in Collins Chabane

“All my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world, the liberation of Africa” – Nkwame Nkrumah.

“Have I played the part well? Then applaud me as I exit.”  - The great Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar as he was dying after ruling the Romn Empire for more than 40 years.

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