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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 254

Paragraph Numbers 19 to 27

Volume 4

Chapter 9

Subsection 3

State oppression and counter mobilisation

19 The role of youth in resisting apartheid dates back to the formation of the militant African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in 1943. The militancy of the youth provided the impetus for the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the drafting of the Freedom Charter in 1955. In the 1960s, students were amongst those who rose up in their thousands to protest against the pass laws. The state’s response to these peaceful protests was mass repression. Many youth saw no option but to leave the country in order to take up arms and fight for liberation. Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), formed in 1961, drew many of its recruits from the ranks of the youth.

20 Children and youth faced the full force of state oppression as they took on their role as the ‘foot soldiers of the struggle’ - as what were called the ‘young lions’. Youth challenged the state by organising and mobilising their schools and communities against illegitimate state structures. Mr Potlako Mokgwadi Saboshego (first name and title please), a student activist from the East Rand, described the role of students thus:

After some time, the parents stood back because, when we held meetings at school, the police would come and interfere with those meetings and they would shoot teargas and, together with our parents, we would become victims of the police interference.

21 The threat which the youth presented is evidenced by the backlash from the former state which used its oppressive armoury against the young.

22 In June 1976, the student revolt that began in Soweto transformed the political climate. One hundred and four children under the age of sixteen were killed in the uprising and resistance spread to other parts of the country. Dissent by the children and youth of South Africa cast children in the role of agents for social change, as well as making them targets of the regime. Classrooms became meeting grounds for organisations such as the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), which was formed in 1979 and ultimately boasted a membership of over a million students. The security police clampdown on COSAS resulted in the arrest of over 500 of its members by the time of the declaration of the state of emergency in July 1985.

23 The arrest of students and the occupation of schools stirred the determination of many children to resist. Mr Mashalaba (Eastern Cape hearing) said:

We were not passive bystanders but rather acted with the naivete of youth and had no way of knowing how the government of the day would retaliate.

24 Many other student and youth organisations emerged, based on differing political ideologies. They too became targets of state repression. Mr Mbinda said:

I can also not forget to quote the PAC whereby it was put in a situation where it could not organise itself, especially in schools. Many of our comrades [were] in schools like Pandulwazi where eleven of our comrades were expelled in 1990.

25 Differing political ideologies and affiliations generated tensions within the liberation movement erupting, at times, into overt conflict. Mr Mbinda, for example, spoke of the conflict between PAC and ANC youth in the Eastern Cape when the United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed. He said that the PAC had initially thought that the UDF would accommodate all the liberation forces of the country. He described what the PAC perceived as:

an emerging monopolistic tendency ... There was a faction which was growing to the extent that it affected our lives; it affected our upbringing because it resulted in feuds, massacres and violence. This meant the PAC had to be more militant because, [according] to our analysis and interpretation of the situation, we were not fighting the enemy only, we were also fighting with our fellow brothers.

26 The state used various means to suppress dissent. Arrests and detentions removed opponents from the political arena. Courts were used to criminalise political activity. In the 1980s, in particular, student and youth organisations were banned, as were the possession and distribution of their publications. From 1976 to 1990, outdoor political gatherings were outlawed. From 1986, there was a blanket ban on indoor gatherings aimed at promoting work stoppages, stay aways or educational boycotts.

27 The security establishment engaged in the informal repression of children by hunting down ‘troublesome’ youth and developing an informer network. This latter had dire consequences for youth organisations. Stories are told about the transfer of detained children to rehabilitation camps where it is thought that they became informers and participated in counter-mobilisation structures and other state security projects. In the words of Mr Mzimasi Majojo at the Eastern Cape hearing:

Our friends were made to spy on us ... be it girlfriends or boyfriends, were forcibly turned to spy on us for the benefit of the monster.
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