kagablog

June 15, 2017

an interview with Tsietsi Mashinini

Filed under: politics,race — ABRAXAS @ 6:31 am

the president of the Soweto Students Representative Council and a central leader of the mass student protests that began in Soweto in June 1976

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Question: Could you tell us what life is like in Soweto?

Answer: I don’t know in what way I can portray the picture. But Soweto is the biggest Black township in South Africa. It has about 80,000 houses, which are inhabited by more than one million people. I came from a family of twelve kids. And my parents make it fourteen. We stayed in a four room house, and the rooms are about eight by ten. Very few houses have electricity. Of those with electricity, most of them belong to the in Soweto had wages just to keep them alive, and not to have any other needs a human being has. Bourgeoisie in Soweto. It is ghetto life all the way. Very few gas stoves around. There are lots of basic needs people cannot afford, because of very low wages. In fact, when a survey was done in 1974 it was found that 60 percent of people in Soweto had wages just to keep them alive, and not to have any other needs a human being has. You don’t own any property except your furniture. The house is not yours – it belongs to the Bantu Administration Board. You are in the urban areas for the purpose of either schooling or working. If you are not doing either of the two, you are sent to the Homelands. Soweto has very few recreational facilities. It has two cinemas, about six municipal halls, and scattered playgrounds here and there. It has almost 300 schools, from grade level Sub A through matriculation. There is no university in Soweto. If you want to go to university, you go to one of the tribal universities.

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Q. You mentioned bourgeois layers in Soweto. Can you explain that further?

A. They are a very small percentage. In fact they have a special township, a place for the rich, called Dube. That is where you find most of the big houses and mansions. Most of the people who stay there are doctors, lawyers, and people who have got the best jobs in town. The rest of the people are labourers and drivers. They constitute 85 percent.

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Q. Could you describe the conditions in the schools and the education system for Blacks in South Africa?

A. Besides having to buy everything you need at school, you pay high school fees. There are a number of bursaries that are granted on merit, but usually they are granted to students from rich families. The classes have almost eighty pupils in them. There are two or three on a desk even at high school. At primary school level you sit down on benches in rows with no desks at all. Our schools don’t have heaters. The school simply has a classroom, a blackboard, and the Department of Bantu Education provides the chalk and writing material for the blackboard. Everything else in the classroom is provided by the pupils. After April, the Bantu Education Constitution laid down that if you have not paid the fees you should be sent out from the school. If you don’t wear the proper school uniform every day, you are liable to expulsion. Teachers cane you for whatever offence, and each school has its own regulations. The school I came from, you enter at 7 a.m and school goes out at 5:30 p.m, with two breaks in between: one at ten o’clock for twenty minutes and a lunch break between one and two o’clock. You get punished for not having shoelaces, belts, ties, and buttons. And if you are a girl and you are wearing a tunic, you get punished if your buttons do not correspond to your tunic. In South Africa, the teaching is very impersonal and indifferent. It’s only in rare cases where you find the teacher with an interest in his students or pupils. Most of the time the teacher just comes in, gives you work, and goes out.

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Q. Are all the teachers Black?

A. Yes, all Black. In my school there was a white teacher. He came this year and was not well received by the students. I understand there are almost eighty white teachers in high schools all over South Africa. This is supposed to project an image overseas that Blacks and whites are living quite happily, that we even have white teachers in Black schools. I don’t know how many times that teacher nearly got beaten up at school by students because of the bitterness the Black people have.

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Q. Can you describe how the recent student protests developed around the Afrikaans language?

A. We don’t have much political education in South Africa and most of the material you read out here is banned in South Africa or it is for the whites only. So you come to realise that you know very little about the outside world except when Kissinger is going to Zurich. That, they announce. The local papers concentrate on local news. Newspaper reading has never been the interest of students for a very long period, because the newspapers were white. A South African high-school student because it was there that the eruption started, at high-school level around the South African Students Organization-cannot tell you that Transkei is another aspect of oppression because of this and this. But in some way or another, the student understands and indentifies all elements of oppression like this Afrikaans thing-that is, our education, which is simply to domesticate you to be a better tool for the white man for the white man when you go and join the working community.

Q. Until now all teaching was done in English?

A. Yes all the time.

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Q. And now the proposal was to make all teaching in Afrikaans, or just some of it?

A. Every student is doing seven subjects, at least until high-school level: the two official languages, English and Afrikaans, your mother tongue, and four other subjects. This Afrikaans policy compelled you to do two of the subjects in Afrikaans and two in English. With the type of education we have and where you do not have much material to research on, students find difficulty in understanding the concepts involved in physics, biology, and geography. And now, if you do all these things in a language you are not conversant in, and the teacher has never been taught to teach in Afrikaans – Afrikaans has got very circles in society because everywhere the medium of English is used, except in official pamphlets where Afrikaans and English is used – and all the time for almost eleven years you have been taught through the medium of English, it is difficult to switch over. A number of junior secondary schools went on strike a then some went back. But there was one in particular, Phuti, which went on strike for six weeks and they would not go back until Afrikaans was scrapped as a medium of instruction. When any school was involved in an incident of some sort, the press built it up as another protest against the Afrikaans language. There was an incident at Naledi high school where security branch officers went to pick up a student for detention. When the go there, the students decide to beat up the security branch officers and burn their car. The press picked that up as another protest of Afrikaans medium of instruction and then it was the talk of the township. We were getting sick and tired because instead of oppression being gradually removed from us, the system was in fact implementing some of the thoughts of oppressing us. I realized that people were fed up with this sort of thing, but nobody had the guts to start anything. I decided that if we were to demonstrate it would have an effect because there has never been a demonstration before in Soweto. There were demonstrations some time before we were born or when we were little kids, like Sharpeville demonstration – of which we know very little because any material written material, about Sharpeville was banned. We heard that the students of the University of Witwatersrand had demonstrated. So I thought that if we could demonstrate it would be something out of the way. I was the president of the South African Student Movement [SASM] at my high school, Morris Isaacson. I called the students together, and on the Wednesday a week before June 16, we talked about it. I delivered the speech on the South African situation and got the students in a mood to do anything.
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I gave them the briefing for the demonstration. On Saturday, we put a placard at the school gates saying: “Notice – no Security Branch allowed. Enter at risk of your skin.” Now the press put that up again as another protest against the Afrikaans issue. On Sunday there was a SASM meeting of all the students in Soweto. I went to the meeting and got a few chaps from the other schools to help me, and we decide to mobilize all the high schools and junior secondary schools. We did that on Monday and Tuesday, and then on Wednesday we went on the streets demonstrating. We were very peaceful all the time and there were just placards denouncing Afrikaans as another method of oppression. The idea was coverage on this junior secondary school, and there, myself and a number of other students had drawn up a memorandum to the effect that we Soweto students totally rejected Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and we were not going back until this was scrapped. We were converged already, and I still trying to tell, the students to settle downs so that we could address them properly, when the cops started shooting.

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Q. How many students were involved on June 16?

A. The press put it at 10 000. I am not very good at estimating how many people were there, but I have seen what 10 000 people are. And if I was to compare that demonstration with others, I we had the biggest crowd on June 16. I think nearly all the students in central, north, east, and west Soweto were involved. Only the South was not involved.

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Q. How were the workers strikes organized after the student protests?

A. After June 16 we realized that there were too many killings, we tried to get a method whereby we could hit the system, and reduce the casualties. As we did not have guns, our only weapon was to cripple the economy of the country, lies in Black hands. So the idea was to stop workers going to work. So we sent work to the parents, the workers. We requested that from such and such a date to such and such a date nobody should go to work. And that is how the workers came into it. They pledged solidarity with the student and stayed at home. We distributed pamphlets, and students were circulating them, that is how there organized. All the time they wanted to be involved in the struggle, but there was no concrete organization which could announce “Don’t go to work could work” could only be done through students.

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Q. Are Black workers being organized on a large scale?

A. Yes I have seen of the underground work.

Q. The clash between some of the hostel workers and the other residents of Soweto what caused that?

A. Now, in the course of the struggle since the Black Consciousness Movement was established and even since Mandela time, the hostel dwellers were always overlooked as a sector of the community. Not much consciousness raising was done, so the system went to these people and told them to kill Black leaders. They gave them pictures of Black leaders, mine was included. They gave them numbers of houses to burn belonging to Black leaders. So, we knew about this, but we were not in a position to do anything. It was confirmed that the system had mobilized all the hostels and fortunate enough some of the hostels did not participate. Only one hostel did participate in the murder of Black people. Immediately afterwards, the Black community reorganized itself to pick the people who did not want to pledge themselves in solidarity with the Black students. But the hostel dwellers became aware of the fact that the system was just using them and so they pledged solidarity with the students. Now they are hitting very hard against the system. The only thing which will happen is that it won’t be reported what the hostel dwellers are doing against the system. It will only be reported what they are doing against the students.

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Q. What was the Students Representative Council?

A. The SRC was formed after June 16 when we were planning the second demonstration for the release of the detainees, requested each school to send two representatives. We did not want the thing to appear as if it was organized by SASM, otherwise SASM would be declared a restricted organization. By even so, all members of SASM were detained and I’m the only one left of the national and regional executive councils.

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Q. Have all the leaders of SASO and the Black People’s Convention been detained?

A. Yes, all of them. The SASO general student council was from July 5 to July 9. The national president was elected after the riots, was then detained in connection with the riots. Before the demonstrations Mongezi Stofile was an ordinary student, but after he was elected national president he was detained in connection with the riots.

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Q. Do you have any connection with the ANC OR PAC?

A. I will tell you something. The ANC and PAC played their part in the South Africa struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. Right now there are ex-members of the ANC in the whole of South Africa. But they are not politically active, that is, have a concept of perpetuating the activity of the ANC or PAC political ideology. As far as the students in South Africa are concerned, the ANC and PAC are extinct internally. Externally we are aware they exist. Internally they are doing no work. There may be some underground work they are doing which we are not aware of, but as far as the struggle is concerned they are not doing anything.

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Q. Do you think there is a different political outlook between the old movements, the ANC and PAC, and the Black Consciousness Movement?

A. Yes there is. There were a number of clashes between ANC and BCM leaders, because the ANC leaders did not want to recognise the BCM as a liberation movement.

Q. Why didn’t they want to recognise the BCM?

A. They did not want to understand why BCM was formed when ANC was the liberation movement. But ANC was banned inside the country, so a new liberation front had to come.

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Q. Can you say something more about the BCM, its origins and links with similar movements elsewhere?

A. The BCM was formed in 1968. There were student councils in Natal, Orange Freestate, all over South Africa. They came together and formed SASO – that’s the mother body of SASM. SASO and SASM belong to the students, SASO at the university level and SASM at high school to lower primary level. Then there is the Black People’s Convention (BPC) with the Black community, the Black Allied Workers Union with the workers and the Union of Black Women federations which concerned themselves with different sectors of the community. Then ideology is the same: to make the Black man more conscious of the evil of the white man, elements of oppression, and so on. The ideology concerned is to peacefully bring about a change in the South African social aspect and to bring about total liberation of the Black man. The BCM, which is a very strong movement, gained momentum from 1972 until the death of Tiro, the person who established SASM in 1972 and was assassinated by a letter bomb in 1974 in Botswana. He was permanent organizer of SASM and was the first national president of SASM at the high school level. He was one of the Black leaders who died for the Black course.

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Q. We have heard that the BCM is influenced by ideas from the American Black National Movement?

A. I am not sure. I myself have read very little material about the Black Power Movement in America. The students in South Africa do not identify Black Power the way it is identified in America. I don’t even know how it is identified in America. I believe that Black Power is the realization of the people of oppression. Immediately they realize they are oppressed they regroup themselves to fight against the system. As long as there is a Black person oppressed in South Africa, there will be Black movements which will result in the concept of Black Power – the eruption of the Black masses. Black Power is every Black person in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Q. To what extent have you involved sections of the Asians and Coloured populations?

A. The ideology of the BCM defines BLACKNESS as an attitude of mind, and not of the colour of the skin. So it makes provision for the Coloured and Indian population to be involved in the BCM. The Black man is any member of the South African community. The difference between the Coloureds, Indians and Blacks is that Blacks are not referred to as Blacks but Africans. If you want to differentiate between the three groups, one is African one is Indian, and one Coloured. They are all referred to as Blacks.

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Q. What have you read in South Africa? Are books and pamphlets smuggled in which give people an idea as to what happens in the rest of Africa?

A. There are a number of books which are smuggled into the country. A lot of people possess banned material. You just do not lend it to people to read because that is where the offence is, by giving it to people, by circulating it. So if you have banned material you keep it to yourself. If the system picks you up and you are in possession of banned material, that is another offence. The first banned book I read was the Immorality Act, which is a story written by a judge about a white man who was in love with a Black woman. The next was this book by Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom. There are quite a number of copies in South Africa. Mostly what is not banned are SASO and SASM newsletters, but they are banned after a month or two. Since June 16, everything that was Black was banned even before it was released.

Q. What about Marxist books? Books by Marx and Lenin?

A. Not even in the libraries. I only learned what it was when I was in Botswana in exile, that the concept of Marxism is based on “each according to his abilities, each according to his needs “. Then I realized that this was exactly what we were fighting for in South Africa. If you ask the people what type of government they would like to have, a person cannot articulate in those terms but a person can tell you that those people in Dube are rich and other people in White City eat cow dung and this is obscene. That a person gets R 40 and the other person gets R 140 for the same kind of job per month. If these things could be equal people would live better. In such parables people will tell you exactly what they want: and when you come to analyse it all, they want Marxism. They have been oppressed and suppressed for so long they only want to leave in an equal society.

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Q. How did developments in Mozambique and Angola affect the Blacks in South Africa?

A. It brought political awareness of the potential Black people carried in their hands. SASO tried to have a rally sometime before the independence of Mozambique and that rally was banned. Now, I was a political infant, and the question arose in my mind why was this rally banned? You turned to like everything the regime hates. They don’t like anything to do with Frelimo; then you are for Frelimo. When they were fighting Cubans and Angolans in Angola, then we were for those people they don’t like. The fact that they don’t like communism makes you think what communism is, and “no, I think I want this.” They are not aware that they are creating this type of thing. The system more or less made me what I am now because of their constant oppression. My character was built by the environment that I lived in. That is why I claim that I am not the only Tsietsi Mashinini – there are lots of other students who will become active because of what the system is doing to them.

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Koketso “Tsietsi Mashinini” Poho

Q. Because of the level of repression since June 16, do you think that the South African regime will be able to crush this movement?

A. I think they will ban the BCM and claim that they are behind all this. But a new liberation front will come up. They are going to drive the people underground, because the people are going to be afraid to act the way the BCM has done. A lot of underground work is going to be done without the knowledge of the system. They will only see various acts of underground work, but they won’t know who is responsible. The system itself has created so many enemies. There were people who sympathized with the BCM, but did not want to have anything to do with politics for fear of detention. The system was raiding almost fifty homes a night after June 16, looking for that person or this person. So many people were killed or detained. So many people have grudges against the system that they are prepared to do anything against the system anytime. So many mothers have lost their children. So many fathers have lost their children. So many husbands have lost their wives. That is because of the system.
In fact, I would say that the system has done more to heighten consciousness than SASO, SASM, and BPC have managed in their history.

Q. Do you see the struggle continuing for ten years?

A. Ten years? Five!

Q. You don’t see the present as a short outburst?

A. I see the downfall of the system in five years.

Q. Do you think that it is possible for the regime to do what it did after Sharpeville and crush the movement?

A. They cannot. If they want to stop Black Power they have to put every Black person in detention. Because as long as there are Black people outside, the struggle will go on.

Q. Do you think it will be possible to organize a powerful, political organization underground in South Africa that could lead a struggle for power by the Blacks?

A. I think there is already a strong, underground liberation movement, the BPC.

Q. Not people from the ANC or PAC?

A. I understand that the ANC has its own underground liberation movement. But there cannot be one underground liberation movement. Because say fifty people are active in this liberation movement, these people cannot come out in public to say, “We are doing this.” So they are acting on their own. Their results will cause people to say, “Such and such has happened. Let’s try do it in such a way.” So there are going to be a lot of underground movements. And I see them as the people who, in fact, are going to start the revolution in South Africa. That is if the people in exile don’t start anything before them.

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Q. What do you think of the Kissinger talks with Vorster?

A. We are aware of the role of Kissinger with his peace talks. The peace talks mean that Kissinger is representing the Western world in South Africa. The Western world has economic interests in South Africa. The Black masses are revolting against the racist regime. Kissinger has got to establish peace in South Africa such that their interests are not tampered with. The Black student is just beginning to realise his fight is not just against the racist regime, but that the racist regime has got its power resources in the whole of the Western world. And that is why they are rejecting people like Kissinger and so on.

Q. What attitude do you think the neighboring states should take towards the South African struggles?

A. If they could make military aid available to the South African struggle it would contribute a lot because that is the only language the people want to understand now. Armed struggle against the racist regime, that’s the only thing they see as possible to bring us total freedom. If you could look into the history of the struggle, you could see that all other means have been exhausted. The only thing left is armed struggle against the racist regime. When we protest in demonstrations, we are mad because we don’t have guns. When we try to negotiate, it is always said the government is still considering for indefinite period. And if anybody comes into leadership, they are detained for indefinite period. The racist regime created so many draconian laws to prove itself against the Blacks that if you obey the South African laws there would be political movement in South Africa.

Q. What about the credibility of Buthelezi and other chiefs?

A. They have much support from the hostel dwellers and people from their vicinities. But the Black students and Black parents in urban areas, where much of the Black population is, totally reject Homeland leaders because they are aware of the issue of Homelands and what it means.

Q. What do you think of the Bantustans?

A. Bantustans are supposed to be independent, but they cannot be independent when they are dependent on the racist regime. If the Bantustans have their own parliament, prime ministers and legislative assembly, the final word will always come from Pretoria. Whatever they want to do on a Homeland scale, the final word always comes from Pretoria.The Black people do not recognise any leader who is working within the system to try and bring about a change. All leaders of the government platform only speak that far and not further. Immediately they go over their limit, they are just sacked from their position. Homeland leaders and some new people are brought in. Pretoria is creating all the puppets – a dozen a day – because they are aware the political role these people could play to try and suppress the protests of the people. Now we do not recognise them, especially the students, who constitute a very powerful liberation front. As long as the students do not recognise the Homeland leaders, urban Bantu councilors, and so on, everybody within the government framework. Their independence shall be recognized by the regime only, not by the people.

Q. What message will you have for the people in Britain, France or the USA to help the struggle?

A. For one, by not recognizing the coming independence of Transkei which is just a political swindle as far as I am concerned, between Blacks and whites in South Africa. The people must understand that the racist regime is dependant entirely on Britain and other countries for arms and so on. And if they don’t support the racist regime it is entirely their duty to end to make sure that Britain cuts all ties with South Africa.

FOOTNOTES

1. Afrikaans is the Dutch based language of the Boer section of the white population.
2. Migrant workers in the urban areas generally housed in barracks like hostels so as to isolate them
from the rest of the population.
3. Nelson Mandela a central leader of the African National Congress in the 1950s and early 1960s. He
is now serving a life sentence on Robben Island.
4. African national Congress and Pan Africanist Congress.
5. South Africa’s Black population is composed of 17.8 million Africans, 2.3 million Coloureds,
710 000 Indians. The Indians were originally brought to South Africa as indentured workers,
and the Coloured are descendents of the early White Settlers. Indians, Malay slaves, KhoiKhoi,
San, and other African people.
6. Frente de Libertcao de Mocabique (Mozambique Liberation Front).

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