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The article below was written by Desmond Tutu on 12 June 2016. It focuses on the  reasons for the Soweto Uprising that occurred on 16 June 1976.


In the 1970s the South African government was busily engaged in its programme to  implement grand apartheid. Among its key activities was making life in the cities as  nasty and unpleasant as possible for black people, to discourage urbanisation. 
Popular dissent (opposition) of the 1960s had been crushed, many anti-apartheid  leaders were imprisoned or had been forced into exile, and preparations were  advanced for the declaration of independent Bantustan republics. The grand plan was  for whites to remain citizens of South Africa, while blacks would become citizens of  their ethnic homelands – even if they had never been there before.
Conditions in the townships were appalling (terrible): insufficient housing, poor  sanitation, overcrowded schools, rigid enforcement of pass laws and consequent  destruction of family lives, constant police harassment at home and on the streets.  But Soweto's children didn't agree with the plan. There was a steady build-up of  pressure, and on 16 June 1976 they exploded into action. The last straw that broke the  camel's back, as it were, was their refusal to accept being taught in Afrikaans. But in  reality, they were confronting indignity, inhumanity and injustice … 

[From The Sunday Times, 12 June 2016]

This article focuses on Tsietsi Mashinini's role in mobilising students to march against  Afrikaans as a medium of instruction on 16 June 1976.

Tsietsi Mashinini can be described as a master architect; a designer of the cause he  believed in and a direct executer of the final outcome, which was ultimately to see the  oppressed being freed. 
In 1971 he was, in the eyes of his English and History teacher, Mookgophong Tiro, a  student of note at Morris Isaacson High School with a passion for reading. In Tiro,  Mashinini encountered a fount (source) of knowledge about the Black Consciousness  philosophy and the dream that one day South Africa would be free to be renamed  Azania. Tiro greatly influenced Mashinini's political thinking which explains the latter's  adherence (loyalty) to the philosophy of Black Consciousness (BC). 
FRELIMO clinched its liberation victory in Mozambique in 1974 and inaugurated  (installed) Samora Machel as president. Angola followed in 1976 with Agostinho Neto  at the helm. SWAPO's plans for Namibia's independence were also taking root.  A decision was taken to stage a peaceful march on 16 June against the introduction of  Afrikaans as a teaching medium. One could feel and touch the totality (whole) of the  struggle when students sang the song 'Mabawuyeke Umhlaba Wethu' ('Leave Our  Land'). 
Propelled by this fighting spirit, Mashinini was elected chair of the action committee,  later renamed the Soweto Student's Representative Council (SSRC). On the morning  of 16 June Tsietsi led students to meeting points for the commencement (start) of  the march. On the day, all the schools had a leader to give clear directives (orders) on  what was to be done. The march drew more than 20 000 uniformed students.  Its purpose had clearly gone beyond Afrikaans as a medium of teaching and liberation  had become the overall goal. No violence was planned. The march, Mashinini  emphasised, was to be peaceful and conducted with all due care to avoid provocation  (incitement). But the police responded with live ammunition. The tragedy that day  turned Mashinini into an instant hero of national and international importance and he  was branded an enemy of the state.  

[From The Sunday Independent, 12 June 2016]

This article is an eyewitness account by student leader, Seth Mazibuko. It outlines how  the events of 16 June 1976 unfolded.

I turned sixteen on 15 June 1976. The marches were planned at the community centre  right across the road from a police station in Orlando East. The next day, 16 June,  the first group of marchers, led by Tsietsi Mashinini from Morris Isaacson High, arrived  on Vilakazi Street. As they were coming, the police were behind them. The police  started throwing teargas canisters. The gods of Africa were with us. You know what  happened? The fumes of the teargas were blowing back to them. They were so  affected that they then decided to release the dog.  
The first violence of 1976 was us beating the dog to death. That agitated (angered) the  police. It was the fumes that were catching them and it was their dog. After that was  another miracle of God. Just as the police were busy trying to organise themselves,  behind them came the second lot of students. The police were caught in the middle.  They had to force their way through this. That's when they started shooting live bullets.  They shot their way out. That's when Hector Peterson and Hastings Ndlovu were hit.  
In the chaos that ensued (followed), more violence took place, including the death of  Dr Edelstein (Deputy Chief Welfare Officer: West Rand Administration Board), at the  hands of the students. The day was not meant to be violent in any way, it only became  that when students started dying at the hands of the police.  
There are people we don't honour around 16 June; the women. The first people to  disguise us that day when the police began looking for us, the first people to sacrifice  their dresses, were women. They gave us their dresses. The first people to bring us  water as we were fighting the teargas, were mothers. The people who shot us, were  fathers. But we never speak about that soft side of 1976. It brings tears to my eyes  whenever that happens. 

[From The Sunday Times, 12 June 2016]

This photograph was taken by photojournalist Jan Hamman. It is entitled 'UP IN ARMS  1976'. 
[From City Press, 12 June 2016] 

The extract below focuses on the reasons for the establishment of the Truth and  Reconciliation Commission.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 1995 to  investigate human rights violations since 1960. It was authorised to grant amnesty  to those perpetrators who made full disclosure. The commission also had to foster reconciliation and unity among South Africans. The TRC's mandate charged it with  the responsibility to be even-handed, but its composition was hardly balanced.  The chairman of the TRC was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a patron of the  United Democratic Front. 
The commission received some 21 300 victim statements that recorded some 38 000  gross violations of human rights. More than 1 000 perpetrators received amnesty after  full disclosure. Instead of concentrating on the context of a deed the commission  focused on the perpetrator or victim, with the result that the context was in most cases  only scantily (poorly) addressed. Cross-examination of victims was not allowed in the  victim hearings, but hearsay evidence was. 
On the positive side the TRC performed an important therapeutic (healing) role, giving  victims the opportunity to tell their stories and have their suffering acknowledged.  It revealed the truth in some notorious cases. Vlakplaas operatives or local security  policemen asked for amnesty for the murders of Mathew Goniwe and three friends  outside Port Elizabeth, the Pebco Three, the Gugulethu Seven, and several other  'targeted killings'. ANC operatives asked for amnesty for the Church Street bomb in  Pretoria, where eighteen people were killed. 

[From The South African Truth Commission by K Christie]

This source outlines how various political parties responded to the TRC hearings.

Despite acknowledging (admitting) the hurt caused by discriminatory (unfair) apartheid  policies, the National Party systematically denied or avoided engagement regarding its  culpability (blame) for widespread violations, but instead presented itself as the  custodian (defender) of law and order, and blamed the liberation movements for  embracing violent ideologies. It pointed to the ANC's intolerance of other parties such  as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who chose a different path, and claimed its  association (link) to revolutionary (radical) Marxist methodologies and objectives led it  to a path of violence. 
The PAC's contribution at the TRC hearings was controversial (debatable) in that  (unlike the ANC) it justified its attacks on white South African civilians, as legitimate  targets of the armed struggle, and acknowledged its cadres were entitled to engage in  criminal acts (such as armed robbery) provided they forwarded the aims and objectives  of the movement.  
The IFP attended the initial round of party political hearings, but subsequently refused  to co-operate with the Commission. In their submission, they blamed both the state  and the ANC for the violence and human rights violations, portraying itself as an  innocent victim that was opposed to apartheid, but also opposed to the liberation  movements' adoption of armed struggle and sanctions. 

Accessed on 15 November 2015.]

This cartoon by Zapiro depicts how the National Party (NP) denied knowledge about its  involvement in the 'Dirty Tricks' campaign against ANC activists. 
[From The Sowetan, 9 June 1995] 

This extract focuses on the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission  (TRC).

The TRC held the ANC accountable for various human rights abuses, both before and  after 1990, and blamed it for contributing to the spiral of the violence by arming and  training self-defence units in a volatile (unstable) situation. It also found that the  success of the so-called 'third force' activities was 'at least in part a consequence of  the extremely high levels of political intolerance, for which all parties to the conflict are  held to be morally and politically accountable'. 
This attempt at even-handedness (fairness) between NP and ANC caused the ANC,  unsuccessfully, to seek amendments (changes) to the final draft of the TRC's report.  Seven commissioners supported the ANC's demand, and seven opposed it. Only  Tutu's vote decided the matter. An application to court by the ANC was unsuccessful.  The IFP and Buthelezi also challenged the TRC's findings in court, causing the Report  to be amended in some respects and allowing the inclusion in the final report of  a statement by the IFP contesting other findings. 
… Both the UDF and Inkatha were deeply implicated (caught up) in violence and it is  difficult, if not impossible, to determine who threw the first stone, and which  organisation was responsible for most human rights violations. 

[From The Rise and Fall of Apartheid by D Welsh]

This extract by the historian G Arnold explains the reasons African countries accepted  structural adjustment policies (SAPs) from the international financial institutions after  the 1980s.

… the Group of Seven (the seven most developed countries in the world: the USA,  Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Canada and Germany) uses the International Monetary  Fund as its instrument to instruct and control the poor countries so that the IMF, which  ought to have acted as a guardian of the poor, has instead become a policeman for the  interests of the rich. As a result of IMF pressures through the 1980s a number of  African countries felt obliged (forced) to put in place IMF-inspired Structural Adjustment  Policies (SAPs), whether or not these really suited their circumstances. SAPs were  the price to be paid for debt rescheduling and further aid. The lesson was obvious: as  long as they remained indebted, small African economies would be subjected to  IMF-dictated economic regimes (rules). 
During the 1980s, the last decade of the Cold War, donor countries (really then by the  West only) forced African countries to accept World Bank and IMF-dictated SAPs. Only  if such policies were accepted would the usually reluctant recipient country then be  given the IMF 'seal of approval' and only when this had been given could the country in  question then obtain the aid it required (if it was lucky) from the principal nations.  In effect, the IMF told African countries what policies to follow: privatisation, lowering of  tariffs against Western manufacturers, cutting subsidies on vital commodities, such as  sugar, flour and cooking oil that most affected the poorest sections of the community,  so that the recipient could more easily repay its debts. These harsh IMF conditions,  never envisaged (imagined) in the original structures of the IMF, imposed political  conditions upon the recipients that amounted to blatant (obvious) interference in their  internal affairs, and whether or not these conditions were acceptable to the majority of  the people was beside the point: they had to be put in place as the price for continued  aid. 

[From Africa: A Modern History by G Arnold]

The source below by A Ismi highlights the financial impact that structural adjustment  policies had on countries in Africa.

From 1980 to 1993, 70 developing countries subjected to 566 stabilisation and  structural adjustment policies with disastrous consequences; the 1980s became known  as the 'lost decade'. Between 1984 and 1990 Third World countries under SAPs  transferred $178 billion to Western commercial banks. So enormous was the capital  drain from the South that Morris Miller, a Canadian former World Bank director  remarked: 'Not since the conquistadors (Spanish explorers who conquered parts of  America during the 16th century) plundered Latin America has the world experienced  such a flow in the direction we see today.' By severely restricting government spending  in favour of debt repayment, the loan terms of the Bank and the IMF eviscerated  (devastated) the Third World state in its wake spiralling (increasing) poverty and  hunger fuelled by slashed food subsidies and decimated (destroyed) health and  education sectors. 
Growth stagnated and debt doubled to over $1,5 trillion by the end of the 1980s,  doubling again to $3 trillion by the end of the 1990s. As United Nations Secretary  General Javier Perez de Cuellar noted in 1991, 'The various plans of structural  adjustment which undermine the middle classes; impoverish (poor) wage earners;  close doors that had begun to open to basic rights of education, food, housing, medical  care and also disastrously affect employment – often plunge societies, especially  young people, into despair' 

Accessed on 16 November 2015.]

This cartoon by Polyp below depicts the impact that structural adjustment policies had  on developing countries. (Date unknown) 
Accessed on 16 November 2015.]
This extract by C Welch focuses on the successes and failures of the structural  adjustment policies in developing countries.

Structural adjustment policies often succeed in achieving specific objectives, such as  privatising state enterprises, reducing inflation and decreasing budget deficits.  However, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth of developing countries  undergoing structural adjustment is routinely limited to a few sectors, mostly raw  materials extraction or goods produced with cheap labour. Thus, even when an  economy driven by structural adjustment policies grows, such growth is generally  environmentally unsustainable and fails to generate significant employment or  increased incomes, particularly at a rate sufficient to keep up with population growth  and compensate for structural adjustment policies induced (caused) layoffs. 
Reforms aimed at opening countries to foreign trade and investment may result in  increased exports and greater access to capital, but they also flood countries with  imported luxury goods and undermine local industry, both of which serve to constrict  (limit) local buying power. Structural adjustment policies benefit a narrow stratum  (section) of the private sector, mostly those involved in export production and trade  brokering (trade negotiating). Those involved in these growth sectors are usually  well-connected elite and transnational companies. 
Layoffs of government workers, wage constraints, higher interest rates, reduced  government spending, and the shutdown of domestic industries all contribute to the  shrinking of the domestic market. The weak state of the domestic market exacerbates  (worsens) socio-economic conditions. Although there may be a new dynamism  (growth) in certain sectors, social and economic insecurity deepens for most people in  countries subjected to structural adjustment policies. The result can be increasing  political instability, including anti-government protests and riots over price increases. 

Accessed on 15 November 2015.]

Arnold G, 2005. Africa: A Modern History (Atlantic Books, London) 
Christie, K. 2000. The South African Truth Commission (Palgrave Publishers, Cape  Town)
Welsh, D. 2009. The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Jonathan Ball Publishers, Cape Town)
City Press, 12 June 2016 
The Sowetan, 9 June 1995 
The Sunday Independent, 12 June 2016 
The Sunday Times, 12 June 2016

Last modified on Thursday, 24 June 2021 11:10