Sibongile Mkhabela. File photo: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)
Sibongile Mkhabela. File photo: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

June 16, 1976, student leaders remember the day – 45 years later

By Baldwin Ndaba Time of article published Jun 13, 2021

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STUDENT leaders from the June 16, 1976, era have showered praises on former Black Consciousness student leader Onkgopotse Tiro, and others, for their roles in encouraging them to resist apartheid without fear.

Tiro was one of the student leaders who was expelled from formerly bush universities, in the early 1970s.

He was a student at Turfloop University, now known as Limpopo University.

Other students hailed from Fort Hare and other institutions in the country.

The students, who were later hired as private teachers at various schools in Soweto, on Sunday also honoured student activist Thabo Ndabeni, during a virtual celebration of the Soweto uprising.

It was organised by the ’70s Group which comprises the founders of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and, later, the South African Student Movement (SASM).

In his address, Ndabeni eloquently echoed the role SASO played prior to the events of June 16, 1976, especially paying tribute to those who were expelled from various black universities in the country.

“Those teachers increased our level of conscience at our school and my school, Musi High, was no exception. They were very young and sharp, and did not run away from debates.

“They came with a different approach. They told us that the education we were getting was meant for us not to succeed. But they said they are going to show us how to survive,” Ndabeni recalled.

He added that those teachers taught them how to overcome fear saying “it was for that reason that we confronted the system with a dustbin lid.”

Sibongile Mkhabela – a Black Consciousness adherent and also well-known for her role in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund – recalled how personal frustrations with Afrikaans, including having a school principal who she dubbed an apartheid stooge and collaborator, made her automatically opposed to the language.

According to her, it all happened while she was a student at BW Vilakazi High School, after the principal had unanimously agreed that their school should be a pilot site for the Afrikaans language.

In her own words – she had, for the first time in her life, presented her parents with a school report in which she failed most of the subjects, except isiZulu and English – all because other subjects were taught in Afrikaans.

This prompted her decision to enlist at Naledi High School, where she came across other student leaders, such as one of the leaders Kgotso Seatlholo, along with Tsietsi Mashinini.

Mkhabela told the audience that she participated in the student protests, to prevent students following after her to find themselves in the same pit

“I knew my life was in my hands. I had to do something. I did not want it to affect other kids coming after me. We labelled ourselves as a people. The Struggle facing younger kids was also our Struggle,” Mkhabela emphasised.

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