Thursday, March 25, 2010

50 Years On - Remembering March 21 1960: Robert Sobukwe and the Positive Action Campaign

On March 18th 1960, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the leader of the PAC announced at a press conference that the PAC would launch the first phase of its ‘programme’ for the liberation of South Africa on Monday, March 21, 1960. The target of this campaign would be the pass laws. A door-to-door campaign was reinforced with a call on all pass-carrying African men to leave their passes at home, march to the police stations nearest them and demand to be arrested for refusing to carry a pass (

In the build-up to 21 March, the PAC President, wrote to the Police Commissioner in Cape Town asking him to instruct his men not to allow themselves to be provoked into violence: “Sir: My organization, the Pan-African Congress, will be starting a sustained, disciplined, non-violent campaign against the pass laws on Monday, 21 March 1960. I have given strict instructions, not only to members of my organization but to the African people in general, that they should not allow themselves to be provoked into violent action by anyone. It is unfortunately true that many white policemen, brought up in the racist hothouse of South Africa, regard themselves as champions of white supremacy, and not as law officers. In the African they see the enemy, a threat, not to “law and order” but to their privileges as whites. I, therefore, appeal to you to instruct your men not to give impossible demands to my people…” - Extract from Robert Sobukwe’s letter to SAP, Major-General C.I. Rademeyer (Pogrun, 1990:123).

Early in the morning of Monday, 21 March 1960, Robert Sobukwe left his house with six of his colleagues. They walked down the street towards the main tarred road. Here, they turned right towards the grocery store owned by Tshabalala. They were met by 10 – 15 men and after a while the group set off up the hill towards Dube Station and turned right to head for Orlando Police Station about 4.5 km away. An hour later, they reached the police station. There were scores of protestors already at the police station when Sobukwe’s group got there. (Pogrund 1990)

By 08h20am, Sobukwe, Leballo and others walked through the gates of Orlando Police station and requested to be arrested for not carrying any passes. In the charge office Captain J.J de Wet Steyn was a bit annoyed at being disturbed and asked Sobukwe and the others to wait outside the police station. He later came outside and warned the crowd not to make a noise or he would “take steps” (Pogrund 1990:131). And so the PAC men spent the first half of the morning waiting across the road under the shade of a bluegum tree. It was during this period that Sobukwe learnt that police had opened fire at Bophelong and he was visibly upset. Pogrund, decided to drive to Vereeniging to see what was happening. (Pogrund 1990)

By 11:20am a policeman came outside and called out the names of the PAC leadership. Sobukwe, Leballo and the other core members were placed under arrest for ‘incitement’. The police asked the remaining members to leave, but the PAC members insisted that they wanted to be with their leaders, so the police arrested the remaining group.

Later that afternoon police opened fire on people in Sharpville. The precise number of deaths is uncertain, and has been variously stated as 67, 69 or 71 (Pogrund 1990). 186 people were injured, 40 women and 8 children. 75% of victims were shot in the back whilst three policemen were slightly injured by stones. (Pogrund 1990) During the day, information of the Sharpville massacre reached Sobukwe. He was extremely disturbed by the news but urged his comrades to remain calm. Sobukwe and his colleagues were sentenced to three years under ‘incitement laws’, but before his term of imprisonment ended on Robben Island, the government introduced an amendment to the law enabling them to keep Sobukwe and others in indefinite detention. (

Sources: 1. Historical Papers, Wits University,

2. Pogrund P. (1990): How Can Man Die Better: The Life of Robert Sobukwe, Houghton Mifflin, South Africa.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tiyang Primary School: Meadowlands

Maki Lekaba was a standard five student at Tiyang Primary School. On Wednesday June 16 1976, Maki went to school not knowing that anything out of the ordinary was being planned.

Tiyang Primary School

She was surprised when addressed by high school pupils from nearby Meadwolands High School at the school gates. The older pupils were attempting to recruit younger pupils in the march against oppression. Maki had no idea that Afrikaans was being used as an instrument of oppression by the apartheid government. She joined the march against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, in solidarity with other school pupils.

Maki followed the older pupils through Meadowlands. Along the way she witnessed the destruction of offices and liquor outlets related to the West Rand Administration Board (WRAB).

WRAB Offices Destroyed on June 16 1976

The house above is the former site of a WRAB rental office. On June 16 1976, this WRAB office was set alight and destroyed along with all its records and documentation. The students continued on a path of destruction, robbing a furniture truck and bread delivery truck before destroying a bar associated with the apartheid regime.


The two-storey structure pictured above is a former WRAB Beer Hall (Bareng). The destruction of this beer hall was the final act of destruction by students from Meadowlands. Students were forced to scatter into nearby homes as police converged into the area.

This is where Maki's march ended. She returned to her home and was glad not be in school for the next few days.

Here is a short audio interview with Maki Lekaba:

Monday, June 30, 2008

We are loved

Chad Rossouw over at A R T T H R O B wrote up a nice article on this very website recently.

This seamless technological approach takes a back-seat though, to the well researched content. Farouk, who was the chief researcher, explored the routes with guides who told him the stories. Points of interest were photographed. On the map these photos and stories can be accessed by clicking on the spots. The contemporary photos provide an entry point both to the past events as well as urban history since. The result is an in-depth look at a significant historical moment, but which is easily understood and reached.
Clearly, we're doing something right!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Research Findings

Phase 2 of the Hector Pieterson Research Project ended in September 2007. Here is a list of research findings and constraints:

  • There are number of meeting places and social networks which provided support to the students during the planning stages of the uprisings. The house of Mr. Mbatha and Titi Mthenjana stand out in particular. Oupa Moloto is certain of the existance of further landmarks in White City, however he is struggling to remember where they are.
  • Naledi demontrates a rich political history, which this research process has only touched on. There are a number of homes belonging to student leaders which still need to be located.
  • The history of the conflicts between hostel dwellers and township residents presents an important perspective social dynamics within Soweto. The geographic proximately of Jabulani Hostels to the newly developed 1976 Heroes Acre presents an opportunity to communicate this historically important relationship to new visitors.
  • There are a number of Important landmarks pertinent to Hector Pieterson’s childhood life which need to be identified. Hector’s creche, the local shop, Hector’s School and the swimming pool in Central Western Jabavu are all important landmarks in the historical landscape of 1976.
  • Diepkloof also has a rich history that has rarely received attention. According to Steve Lebelo, Diepkloof offers an ideal terrain to examine how forms of extended social networks developing since mass resettlement of communities in the 1950s and strengthened by the unifying ideology of Black Consciousness during the 1970s, broke down in the face of new political identities.
  • Research into the life of Mbuyiso Makhoba needs to be prioritised. Not much is known about this important person who was immortalised in Sam Nzima’s famous photograph.
  • A small group of students from Vuwani Secondary School continued to march from Sizwe Stores to Orlando West. Their fate is still unknown.
  • Limited information on the uprisings in Tshiawelo has restricted this project. Whilst the route from Vuwani Secondary School has been mapped, limited information and particiaption from active particiapnts has hampered the mapping of the route from Sekano Ntoane.