Words: Edwin Naidu
Widow of Teboho Tsietsi Mashinini says the events of 1976 should always remember those who sacrificed their education, livelihoods and lives to fight in the many battles to end apartheid and racism. In her academic work she ensures that her students remain rooted to the continent.
Annually, the Soweto June 16 uprising in 1976 is replayed as South Africans pay tribute to the many brave student leaders from Soweto who took part in a peaceful protest that turned violent due to police action, resulting in the deaths of 23 and 4,000 casualties.
As the riots spread rapidly throughout the country touching people from all walks of life some of whom only then became aware of the impact of apartheid, ultimately, shaping them into leaders in their own right.
But that defining day 44 years ago would mean little if the youth of South Africa and indeed the African continent do not learn and ensure that the struggle for a better education does not translate into a better life for all, according to Welma Mashinini Redd, the widow of one of the frontline leaders of the uprising, Teboho Tsietsi Mashinini.
Sadly, she says, her husband did not return home from exile to experience freedom but the sacrifice he made should not be forgotten. “The events of June 16 should not be wasted, because at the end of the day we want to see students in South Africa in a better place,” she says.
Tsietsi died in 1990 in Conakry, the capital of Guinea on the African West Coast. His body was returned to South Africa on 4 August 1990 and he was buried at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto where his grave bears the phrase “Black Power.”
But his and the efforts of others on June 16, which resulted in him having to flee the country as police looked for ringleaders, should be remembered to shape the society that is long overdue, says Mashinini Redd.
“We must take ourselves seriously and build for the future, not produce leaders only concerned with their pockets. Yet today, it’s more about money, but we must instill values, such as good character in our children, so that they behave better towards society. We owe it to the students of ‘76 to stop being greedy and reflect a leadership style exhibited during apartheid as servants of the people,” she insists.
Mashinini Redd says along with her daughters Nomkhitha and Thembi (who are based abroad) she has taken part in June 16 celebrations in Soweto on several occasions and her children stay in touch with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in South Africa via social media.
“The girls and I are proud to have been at the unveiling of a monument to Tsietsi and we know the sacrifices he and others made for South Africa,” she says.
“They know who their father was and apart from attended the unveiling of a monument to him in Soweto, also visited his grave and stay in touch with family,” she adds.
Liberian-born Mashinini Redd, an Associate Professor of Multiplatform Production, in the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University, in Baltimore, United States, says she knew about the liberation struggle before meeting Tsietsi through late African songstress Miriam Makeba with whom she performed.
But now as an academic, she ensures that her students remain rooted to the continent learning about Africa through engagement and interaction. Two years ago, she visited with students for an African Presidential Leadership Roundtable. “We can do with quality leadership emerging from students throughout Africa, the lessons of June 16 are relevant for people throughout the continent,” she says.
Particularly, with June 16 being observed by the United Nations as the International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR), Mashinini Redd says that students today must pay it back for those who made sacrifices in 1976 by reaching out to help improve the lives of their family members.
According to the UN over 200 million migrants around the world send money home to improve the lives of their 800 million family members back home, and to create a future of hope for their children. Half of these flows go to rural areas, where poverty and hunger are concentrated, and where remittances count the most.
Similarly, she says the battle to end poverty in South Africa and Africa is far from over, and one simply has no choice but to ensure one lends a hand to uplift each other.
Former politician-turned academic at the University of Johannesburg, Sydney Mufamadi, says he belongs to the June 16 generation. “I straddled Gauteng and Limpopo, studying in what was called Venda doing my junior certificate at Khweva High School near Thohoyandou. It was the following year when activism spread throughout the country, in the area I was in, we organised a low-key march of all schools in the area after the death of Biko,” he recalls.
The former Minister of Safety and Security from 1994-1999 and Minister of Provincial and Local Government from 1999-2008, says that march was followed by a larger one to the capital, but it would be the last time he attended school because police began hunting the ring-leaders.
Mufamadi moved to Soweto where he became actively involved in ANC politics. “The Soweto uprising in 1976 ranks alongside the Sharpeville massacre (21 March 1960 when 69 people were killed) and the death of Steve Biko (12 September 1977) as key turning points in terms of taking the struggle to a higher level.
Referring to the youth of ‘76, Mufamadi said the influx of young leaders helped enthuse the movement at a time when leaders where inside prison and perhaps decadence had set in but the emergence of young and wisdom of mature helped shape the struggle through the next decade.
“I was 17 when I became involved in politics. We started early and sometimes do feel as if we are veterans but the ANC definition of one is that you must be 60 years and have 40 years of uninterrupted service, I’m only 61,” the youthful Mufamadi recalls.
ANC general manager, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule was only in grade three at Kruisfontein Primary School in primary school in Humansdorp, a small town in Eastern Cape, but she remembers the impact of the Soweto uprising. “I had an uncle at a teacher training college and older siblings in high school, so one heard about the uprising in Port Elizabeth, listened to the news and parents talking.
“One of things I remember, we used to sing Die Stem but immediately following the protests, we stopped singing it. Nobody explained why, but for me, it laid the foundation for my political learning, raised awareness of what apartheid was about and why the students were fighting. So, when I went to high school, I understood the 1980 school boycotts better. There was a very strong consciousness across the board, it was so sudden and affected the entire country,” she says.
Potgieter-Gqubule says the lessons from Soweto uprising are that “we must never give up the fight for a better education system… We must make sure that every school has a library, decent water and sanitation. Also, content must change, in 1976, the students were protesting against Afrikaans, later it evolved into opposition to Bantu education. These protests reinforce us as black South Africans, where we come from, which is why #feesmustfall is an echo of the demands made by the ‘76 generation,” she says.
In 1976, South Africa’s Ambassador to Italy, Shirish Soni, was a student at ML Sultan Technical College (now Durban University of Technology). “A few days after the uprising began students across the country boycotted classes in solidary with our comrades in Soweto. I went from class to class and spoke to the students to walk out of their lectures and join us. We were full of hope and confidence, anger and energy, determination and courage. As we would say in those days we were ‘full of pluck’,” he recalls.
Soni says it’s important to remember the student uprising to ensure that the future generations understand the significance of the role played by the students towards the eradication of apartheid. “We are grateful to those who sacrificed their education, careers and livelihood to fight in the many battles to end apartheid and racism,” he says.
“June 16 reminds us that we have to soldier on,” Soni says.
Dan Montsitsi, Deputy Chairperson of the June 16, 1976 Foundation, says the members of the foundation want to stimulate a culture of learning and teaching, encouraging the community to be proud of their schools and be passionate about education. “All these efforts are aimed at building young leaders.”
Born-free youth Prashirwin Raul (18) says the events of 16 June 1976 are still relevant today as the death of George Floyd at the knee of racist police brutality “shows us that even though apartheid is dead, racism and the belief that someone is lesser than you are still inside us”.
“We must know our history, so we learn from our horrible past, knowing that we can’t sweep all that disgust under the carpet but deal with it for a better future,” he says.
Key People in the June 16 Soweto Youth Uprising
Many people were involved in the historic turning point that 16 June 1976 became.
These South African students, parents, activists, government employees, and others were in Soweto itself and elsewhere across the country. The list has been compiled by South African History Online.
The plan is to organise biography categories as follows: student organization leaders, students, parents, government leaders, eye-witnesses, other key leaders, and Soweto poets and artists, to name a few. They include:
Tsietsi Mashinini (deceased)
Khotso Seatlholo (deceased)
Murphy Morobe – (former Head of Communications in the office of the President Thabo Mbeki and businessman)
Elias “Roller” Masinga SSRC backroom strategists
Daniel Sechaba Montsitsi
Sibongile Mthembu Mkhabela
Hector Pieterson (deceased)
Hastings Ndlovu (deceased)
Antoinette Sithole (lady seen with Mbuyisa and Hector Pieterson)
Joe Phaahla – President of AZASO
Leo Marquard – first president of NUSAS
John Shingler – NUSAS
Adrian Leftwich – NUSAS
Maeder Osler – NUSAS
Mosima “Tokyo” Sexwale, among others, the full list is available online.