Cape activists recall days of student protest

Independent Media

Dinga Sikwebu.

Cape Town –

Recalling the events that began in Soweto on a winter’s morning on June 16, 1976, anti-apartheid activist Sahu Barron wrote: “When schoolchildren stand up to police guns, demanding to be taught in their parents’ tongue, you know that the time of a nation has come, in South Africa.”

For Barron, and for millions of people who took a stand against apartheid locally and worldwide, the uprisings of 1976 are often recalled as an event that took place in Soweto on June 16, when police opened fire on students marching to express their condemnation of the apartheid policy to enforce Afrikaans as the medium of instruction as part of Bantu education in black schools.

That day is invariably associated with Sam Nzima’s picture of 18-year-old activist Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying Hector Pieterson, a massacre victim, in his arms.

However, there is a larger story, as the rebellion spread across the country and by August 1976 had erupted in black and coloured townships in the Western Cape, starting with a student boycott at the University of the Western Cape and spreading across the Cape Peninsula.

There were running battles between protesters and police at Cape Town train station, the Grand Parade and in streets of the CBD.

It is this narrative that lies at the heart of an initiative of the Cape Town chapter of the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education, which intends putting these events into perspective and crafting an authentic representation of the uprising in the Cape.

The centre is launching an oral and documentary history project.

Working with a group of 25 young people, the centre plans to document the events of 1976 in Cape Town.

The group will participate in a six-month project as interviewers, researchers and photographers.

Dinga Sikwebu, a unionist affiliated with the centre, said this was part of a project “to excavate invisible and hidden histories. It is part of an agenda to move away from Soweto-centred versions of what was in actual fact a national uprising”.

“Through the project, the centre hopes to inspire other micro and local histories of the 1976 revolt.”

When the rebellion started, Sikwebu was a 15-year-old Form 2 student at Sizamile Secondary (now Oscar Mpetha High) in Nyanga. He considers this the moment his life changed.

Sikwebu said there was a need to properly incorporate the history of 1976 in Cape Town.

“There is a very Soweto-centric approach in the whole of the 1976 narrative; understandably so. But if we are to learn anything from what happened 40 years ago, we must tease out what actually happened although the uprising began it also spread to other parts of the country and as it moved it took different forms in different areas,” Sikwebu said.

There was, he said, a need to recognise everyone’s contribution to the Struggle.

“With only four high schools in black African townships and hundreds of coloured schools, what did it mean to take up a campaign on Afrikaans as a medium of instruction?

“How did the thousands of…

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