Young as we were, it was the cruelty of apartheid that made the class of 1976 take a stand
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By Thabo Ndabeni
I was 19 at the time of my first arrest in October 1976 over distribution of pamphlets in Mohlakeng, West Rand, resulting in a one-night stay at Langlaagte police station.
I was a year older when I was detained again along with Khotso Lengane in April 1977, at the government-created Urban Bantu Council, carrying out the Soweto Students Representative Council’s (SSRC) decision to force councillors to resign.
The detention of the entire executive of the SSRC on June 10, 1977, was one that led to us being charged with sedition and terrorism in 1978, with 10 others. This is what came to be known as Soweto 11 marathon trial.
For my “sins” I was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to five years suspended for five years. Looking back at the journey travelled, it directs us to remember June 8, honour June 13, and to impress upon the nation to respect June 16 with all the solemnity that can possibly be mustered.
Three dates come to mind in recalling the stepping stones to the great day whose 45th anniversary we are marking this year.
A white VW Beatle was left in ashes on the day security police came to arrest Naledi High School student Enos Ngutshane on June 8, 1976, in Soweto.
A student meeting at the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre on June 13 took a decision that could best be summed up as tackling the bull by its horns.
A cold Wednesday winter morning was the day the DOCC meeting elected to take the struggle out of the classrooms into the streets on June 16.
Steve Biko’s words had finally hit home: “The rule of the oppressors is prescribed by the endurance of the oppressed.”
Matters had gone beyond the imposition of language instruction for education. It was the beginning of the end of the entire system that had authored the misery of the struggling majority.
Young indeed we were. But we saw ourselves as students fighting for an education system that could only be made possible in a liberated society.
We frankly did not see ourselves as the youth. We were part and parcel of the struggling majority with an obligation to turn society into a new leaf.
Extracting concessions for ourselves because of our age hardly featured in our heads. From the barrel through which a trigger was pulled to end 13-year-old Hector Pieterson’s life, the guns were already trained to target black lives. It was against the total cruelty of the system that the class of 1976 took a stand.