Black pupils take to the streets to protest the quality of their education on June 16, 1976. Picture: Independent Media Archives
On this 42nd anniversary of the June 16, 1976 uprising, it is apt to salute and pay tribute to the gallant 18 activists and freedom fighters who were imputed for fermenting revolution and for being behind the June 16 uprising.

Under the leadership of Zephaniah Mothopeng, affectionately known as Uncle Zeph or the Lion of Azania, they were arraigned, tried and convicted during the infamous Secret Bethal Treason Trial (also known as State v Mothopeng and 17 others).

The trial began on January 9, 1978 with Uncle Zeph as accused No1.

Ms Urbania Mothopeng was detained in solitary confinement in a fruitless effort by the State to attempt to coerce her into testifying against her husband.

The indictment was 50 pages long and about 86 people, including the founding president of the PAC, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, who was on his deathbed in banishment in Kimberley, were cited as co-conspirators of the June 16 revolts. The trial judge, Judge David Curlewis, had ordered that the trial be held in-camera, and banned the public and the press from covering it.

The trial lasted for approximately 18 months, with 168 state witnesses who testified against Uncle Zeph and his co-accused, who were mostly students. The trial was dubbed as South Africa's biggest terror trial and one of the longest in the country's judicial history.

Like their contemporaries, Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Seatlholo and many others, the 17 students having been inspired by Frantz Fanon’s revolutionary assertion that, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”, made it their generational mission to dislodge the settler colonialism that manifested itself in the form of Bantu education.

Having found the accused guilty as charged, Justice Curlewis imposed the following sentences: Zephania Mothopeng (30 years), Moffat Zungu (7 years), Michael Matsobane (15 years), Daniel Matsobane (12 years), Marks Shinners (12 years), John Ganya (11 years), Benny Ntoele (10 years), Johnson Nyathi (10 years), Themba Hlatswayo (8 years), Goodwill Thlale (8 years), Julius Landingwe (8 years), Sithembele Khala (7 years), Goodwill Moni (7 years), Zolile Ndindwa (7 years), Jerome Kodisang (5 years) and Hamilton Keke (5 years).

Contrary to the parochial narrative, the historic June 16, 1976 was not an isolated, sporadic and spontaneous event, but part of the broader liberation agenda enshrined in the unfolding programme of action of the PAC aimed at the total destruction of settler colonialism and its vestiges; and the emancipation of the dispossessed and oppressed autochthonous African majority in occupied Azania.

For the sakes of historical accuracy and posterity, the true facts about June 16, 1976 must be told and a befitting tribute accorded to those deserving of it. Lest we forget!

Leslie Seth Kgapola, PhD


* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.