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Human Rights Violation Hearings


Starting Date 22 July 1996

Location SOWETO

Day 1


Case Number .

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MS SOOKA: Mr Magubane stand please so that I can administer the oath.

PETER MAGUBANE: (sworn states)

MS SOOKA: As is customary we have assigned a Committee member to assist you with the leading of your evidence and Mr Hugh Lewin will do that now. Thank you.

MR LEWIN: Thank you Madam Chair. Peter it's a great privilege for me and pleasure to be working together again after a considerable number of years, as a result of which I know that you are certainly not someone who like talking. You talk through your camera as we very eloquently have seen in the photographs, which over the last two and a half decades have chronicled the history of our country. You and your work have become particularly identified with 1976 and June the 16th. I think what we would like to hear this afternoon from you is the account of you as a photographer and as a resident of Soweto at the time in going through those horrendous events. If you could just take us through that in the context of your own experience. Thanks very much.

MR MAGUBANE: Thank you very much Hugh. On June 15 there was a write-up in the Star that said "Students march on the 16th". We didn't pay much attention because there hadn't been any marches by students, but I thought it wise that I should contact my office, the Rand Daily Mail and let them



know about this and ask them to provide me with a car so that I can cover the event. A car was sent to me.

I went into Orlando West on the 16th. I drove to Mafulo where I came across schoolchildren running towards the Vocational Training Centre. I immediately got out of my car and started taking pictures. I had just shot two frames when there was an objection from the crowd that I should not take pictures because they might be identified by the police. I quickly said to them no I think here you are mistaken because if you are brutalised and you are killed by the police no one will know as to what has taken place. They still objected. I said it is necessary for the Press to be allowed and do their work as easily as possible. It is necessary to document this event so that your people and the world can see as to how apartheid operates in this country. Fortunately they relented and this is fine. I said to them I ask you even those that are not of our colour they should also be allowed because they are also documenting. They said fine there will be no problem.

Immediately after talking to them there was a White van that was driven by a Western Board official. They immediately went over to the car and tried to pull this man out. I quickly stopped taking pictures and went over there and said this will not help your cause at all. Leave this man alone, let him go wherever he's going to. Don't do anything to him. Fortunately this crowd did listen, they listened to me and this man was able to drive where he was driving to.

I then left that crowd, went into Sizwe intersection. When I got there I found schoolchildren with placards that read "Away with Afrikaans", "We do not want Afrikaans in our SOWETO HEARING TRC/GAUTENG


schools". Immediately I got out of my car, as I photographed that a White policeman pulled out his gun, the children ran in different directions. One of these children was chased and fortunately again this man, the policeman did not fire. He chased and the youngster and managed to escape. Round about ten o'clock we heard that a child was killed in Orlando West. That is when everything went wild. Soweto changed the tone of the morning to a different tone. The students became angry. Anything that belonged to the Western Board was set alight. Anything, any car that belonged to a government official or White businessman was set on fire.

Soweto was a different place altogether that day. Police were not able to come into the township after they had killed Hector Petersen, they were kept at bay, out of the township. It was only late in the afternoon that they made their way through into the township and began firing teargas, rubber bullets.

I then drove up to Orlando West again where I found the body of Dr Edelstein. That time the police had managed to come in. The police were surrounding the body. There was a placard that was put on his head that read "Afrikaans is a drug to our children". I photographed that and went to near Tshabalala Garage in Jabavu. There I found a body of a man that was driving a truck that belonged to his employer. He was asked to hand the truck over. He refused and said I am working for my children. He was mercilessly killed and set alight. It was for the first time for me to see a charred body of a human being. Now I do not know whether this was by the students or it was by people who take advantage of occasions, like criminals. I left that



scene. It was now becoming dark. The Maponya corner was on fire. Cars were burning, police could not come into that area. Even if they tried to come in it was difficult. It was also difficult for camera people to take pictures openly but we managed to do our job. Then I went down to Mafula North where I found a man killed, his wife was next to the body, I followed that up.

The next day was the 17th, I went to Alexandra Township. Now in Alexandra Township it was a different story from Soweto. The police went in there with the aim of killing people for they did not use any teargas nor rubber bullets. I saw a man being hit who was right inside the toilet, who had done absolutely nothing. He was sitting in the toilet relieving himself. He was shot and killed.

After taking pictures of that man one of the policeman came and put the muzzle of his gun on my temple and said I must "F off". Yes I did. I went to another section. I did my job again. A Chinese shop was on fire and the Indian section of Alexandra Township was also on fire. The police tried to use the Indians against our people by using their shops as places where they can pick up food and cold drink and this annoyed the residents of Alexandra Township for they thought that the Indian community in Alexandra were in cahoots with the police.

I saw children, adults, mothers die in the hands of the police in Alexandra. A young woman who was not far from me on 2nd Avenue was hit with a bullet on her stomach, ripped open her stomach. If you have seen the pictures on the wall that picture is there, of that lady. Whether she died or not I don't know.

After taking that picture a police captain hit me



across the face with a baton fracturing my nose. I fell to the ground. When I got up he said take out your film and expose it to light. I said I cannot do that. He said I'll hit you again. I slowly took out the film, as I opened the cassette I realised that this was history that I am about to destroy, history that I could never regain again. To me that was more hurtful than my fractured nose. I knew with my nose I could have it fixed, but with the images that I had got for the day I knew I could never, never have those images again. This is why I called my exhibition "June 16 Never, Never Again". At the same time I said to myself this man must be stupid not to know what is important because that was evidence for him to use perhaps against me. I reported that matter but nothing happened to it. I was never told whether he was being prosecuted or the case was going on or not.

Now I am going to deal with the days subsequent to, 16, 17 18, 19 and 20. I saw policemen ferry hostel dwellers to Pumlung Station, and I saw them a number of times ferrying the hostel dwellers with their trucks and cars. I waited for the hostel dwellers as they were marching on to Mzimhlophe. I took a picture from a distance. The picture is there too.

Things were becoming worse. I immediately reported the matter to the Orlando Police Station. I spoke to the station commander who said to me we have requested your help but the community did not want to help us. We now have our own people to help us. There is nothing that I can do for you.

I went back to where I was in Meadowlands. I saw children die in the hands of the police. One child was hit



in front of me but because the police were watching I could not take any pictures. As they left I took the child, put the child in my car and took her to the hospital, came back, carried on with my work. The same evening I went to Mzimhlophe Hostel which was on fire. I took pictures there, went back to the office.

On my way to the office I went past my home in Diepkloof. I found that my house was on fire. I looked, there was nothing I could do, I had to get back to the office to process my films because a good story that does not make the paper is not a story. Fortunately the Rand Daily Mail was able to get me accommodation for the week. I could not go to my house, everything was burnt out. I made a report the next day. I was told that we have too many things in our hands, there is absolutely nothing that we can do for you with your house. It is you, the community of Soweto that started this, and therefore stay with it.

The next day I went back to Mzimhlophe, the hostel dwellers were on the warpath, anything that was young was killed, injured, even we camera people and reporters we could not work openly. That very evening I called Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the presence of my editor. I asked him to come to Soweto to try and speak to the hostel dwellers for things are getting out of control. He promised to come. The next day he arrived at the hostel. There was a big Mbizo attended by the hostel dwellers, the police and some members of the community. Now these men were being paid by the police. They were given a carton of mageu and a loaf of bread to kill their own people. The community of Meadowlands, Mzimhlophe and Killarney came together and drove the hostel dwellers out of the Mzimhlophe Hostel. For



about six months the hostel was empty, there was no one in the hostel, but they had already done their dirty work. A lot of people were killed in Mzimhlophe. A lot of people were killed in Zone 1, Meadowlands. At some point when it was difficult to operate I got into a rubbish bin with the help of the community, I was able to take pictures that you see today, some of the pictures that are making history today. If it had not been for the community we the Press people would not have been able to do the type of work that we did from day 1 June 16 up to the last days of June 16 because it did not end there. It went up to the 80's, beginning of the 80's.

Now I did not only do Soweto and Alexandra Township, I did Katlehong, I did Kwatema, I did Mamelodi Pretoria. I did Duduza. I went to Middelburg and the furthest place that I went to was the Eastern Cape. All these places it was people were crying of police brutality. I was able to see the differences in the action of the police, Soweto, Alexandra and these other areas.

After the first day, the days after the first day Soweto was again different from any of the townships for the police were now not playing but killing. You woke up in the morning, down the streets you would find ten bodies lying covered in newspapers. '76 was very interesting because students were not people that bought newspapers, but from the first day the circulation of newspapers rose. Students began to read newspapers. The community began to read newspapers. These newspapers we also used to cover the dead. There was a green car which was called the notorius green car. I followed that green car from township to township. It used to kill men, women and children



indiscriminately. If it came across people standing in a group they would just open fire. It was driven by two White policemen. I was following behind in my Volkswagen, and I don't understand why they did not recognise me. Wherever they shot, if there was someone that needed assistance I would become an ambulanceman, pick up the body, take it to the hospital if the person is still alive.

Sometimes my colleagues wanted to know from me whether was it right for me to assist because my work is to photograph, and I said if my editor ever said to me I should not help, I should not give help when it is necessary, then my editor can go to hell. I am the one that feels the pinch. I am the one that should make that decision for I am the one that is taking pictures. And I made those decisions. In cases where I can take pictures and not help I will do so. In cases where I have to assist I stopped taking pictures as long as I have one picture that I can show I stop and I give help. It is a very high price to pay but in some instances you have to do it.

If it was not for the community of all these places I would not have survived. I would not have made the history that is made today.

MR LEWIN: Please just tell us about '85.

MR MAGUBANE: I will tell you briefly about just before '76 then I will deal with '85. Before '76 my banning orders had just been lifted, in fact not lifted by expired. I had been detained prior to my banning orders for 586 days in solitary confinement and I was banned for five years, which meant for 7 years I was not a photographer. I did not earn a living as a photographer. When '76 came I was hungry for pictures. I was hungry to get back to my community and this



is why I did not think of my life first. I was more concerned about what was happening to the students and to our people.

In 1985 I was covering a funeral in Katlehong when the police opened fire and shot me with buckshot 17 times below my waist. But I survived because of the community in Katlehong. The very school children who were there to bury their colleague came to my rescue. They pulled me into the house when the police had left me for dead. I am grateful to those people. Had it not been for them I would not be alive to show you the history....

MR LEWIN: Take your time.

MR MAGUBANE: I know that there are people that have paid a price for what they believe in. And I know that there are people in other countries that have worse lives than some of us in this country but apartheid, to have lived under apartheid was worse than to live any other type of life that is led by people who are free. We have tried not to use any violence whatsoever.

Our children have been told that they are not supposed to study above standard 2 for there will be no need for them to know mathematics, to know history and geography for they will not be going to Europe. The only language that they will understand is the master/servant relationship language. And our children refused and said, yes you may have done it to our parents but we are not prepared to take it. You can come with the might of your guns we will fight with our stones. Our children did not use any guns then, all they used were stones, fighting guns with stones. When you tried to talk to the policemen and you say what is it that you are doing, the answer you get, you have asked for it. Some of



these children left their homes at a tender age and went to strange countries in Africa to become refugees. Left their mothers, their fathers behind and did not have the motherly care, whilst the White people of South Africa had our mothers and they had the very children's mothers who had fled the country at a very tender age, to bring up their children.

I will never, never forget 1976. I had never seen such brutality. Yes I have seen the Sharpeville massacre. It happened one day. The next day everybody went to work as if nothing has happened. But June 16 you kill one you kill all. Thank you.

MR LEWIN: Peter thanks very much indeed. I just have one brief question to ask because you have given us a litany of places from Soweto to Katlehong, Duduza, all around the country and as an observer doing your job as you say, at some stage you must to have come to the answer of a question why? Can you give us any beginnings of that answer?

(Tape ends....)

MR MAGUBANE: I did not do my work as I was supposed to do. I took pictures from a distance, did not concentrate that much because I got emotionally involved, but my editor Tom Hopkinson said to me you have pictures but they are not the type of pictures that I am looking for. They are not the type of pictures that would make me want to buy a newspaper or a magazine. They are not the type of pictures that people can look at and remember 20 years after. If I didn't think that you had the potential of being a photographer one day I would fire you right away. I urge you not to get emotionally involved again. This is why I went from one place to the other to make sure that I have documented this



event properly. What I had in the back of my mind was history, and did not bother about myself and my children. I said if other people can sacrifice why can I not sacrifice. There are people out there who have sacrificed their lives and who am I to say I am afraid I am going to die. When I went out with my camera that particular day I said to myself whatever happens and how difficult it may be I will come back with pictures. Even if I had died during the course of my duty I know my children would have been looked after by other people. At least I shall have got one or two pictures that would make history.

MR LEWIN: You have certainly done that. Thanks very much. Could I hand over back to the Chair.

MR MANTHATA: I know it will sound absurd, there is this body that you found charred in Mafulo, was there a way later to have found out who that person was, either through the firm that he was driving for?

MR MAGUBANE: No. There was no name left on the truck, the truck was totally burnt out with this man underneath the truck. So there was no way that we could have found out.

MR MANTHATA: Did you think at that time that the Rand Daily Mail management was sympathetic to the reporters, you included?

MR MAGUBANE: Yes the Rand Daily Mail was sympathetic. They had two issues. There was a town issue and then there was the Soweto Rand Daily Mail. I was working for the town Rand Daily Mail, other people were doing the Soweto Rand Daily Mail. They were very sympathetic. It was the Rand Daily Mail, Die Beeld that did the best coverage of the Soweto uprising, and The World. The Sunday Times, the Sunday Express did very, very little as far as the uprising



was concerned. The only time they had a report was when there was a White person that was injured in Soweto or in any areas where there was the uprising. If a policeman was injured or whatever happened to policemen they would cover that.

MR MANTHATA: Then there was this meeting that was held in Mzimhlophe where Dr Buthelezi was present, did you take photos of that? I haven't looked.

MR MAGUBANE: Yes I did take pictures of that. There is a picture there that shows the impis with their sticks next to the houses in Mzimhlophe. They were going from house to house looking for young men and young girls, and if they didn't find any they would smash the windows, smash the doors and take whatever is inside that they can carry along with them to the hostels.

MR MANTHATA: You said that the people who were attacking Mzimhlophe, people who were later driven out by the people, my question was didn't the photos that you took of these people influence Dr Buthelezi to call for restraint, you know from the people who were attacking the Mzimhlophe residents?

MR MAGUBANE: Dr Buthelezi that day of the Mbizo told the hostel dwellers that they should stop what they were doing. But knowing hostel dwellers, that they don't take, they don't listen for they still on days where there were stayaways that were called, stay away from work, they would go to work and what would happen when they came back they would then be attacked by the youngsters in Mzimhlophe. They in turn would attack the residents in the evening when the residents are asleep they would then be attacked. But after that Mbizo it was easy for the community to get



together and drive these people out of the hostels.

MR MANTHATA: Thank you.

MS SOOKA: Mr Magubane I would simply like to ask you one question please. In a sense for the Truth Commission many of the profession are under scrutiny and also the different trades that people ply, in your opinion what opinion would you render on the newspaper industry, or rather should I say the media industry at that particular time in the way they effectively covered June the 16th?

MR MAGUBANE: Well June the 16th was not effectively covered by all newspapers. There were very few newspapers that covered June 16 and the subsequent days after that. You could have counted on the Rand Daily Mail, ...(indistinct), and the foreign media outside. Most of our pictures were sent outside, were syndicated to newspapers around the world. This is why the world knows Soweto so well because we were able to send pictures out, when in fact the police insisted that material should not be sent outside. Sometimes there were restrictions about certain pictures being used. You were told you cannot use that picture, but if all the newspapers in the country did their work according to newspaper work every one in this country, even in the remotest areas of this country, around the world would have known about the Soweto uprising. But because they were part of apartheid they did not do so. The Rand Daily Mail had the history of exposing the social issues affecting this country. The world then had the same, they were doing the same thing, but the other newspapers had their own agenda. June 16 opened the way for many young Black photographers, people who were working as messengers, tea boys, dark room technicians before they came into the



township, but those that did not fear, just came in.

Now it is very pathetic in any civilised country you get shot at when you take the Minister of Justice to court you lose your case and you are made to pay R20 000 for court costs. I get shot, I take the Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger to court and the police, I lose my case and I am asked to pay R20 000 and I was given nine months to pay the amount. Fortunately with the help of my children I was able to pay that R20 000 and I do appeal to the Commission that I think I do need my R20 000 back.

MS SOOKA: Mr Magubane one last question. You have taken what, and in fact the example of that is on our walls, we are very grateful you've agreed that we could use them, but what do you think could possibly be a creative use of your photographs in the future?

MR MAGUBANE: Well I've been thinking as well, thinking in terms of a history book, thinking in terms of getting historians, sit down with historians and write about June 16 so that the children who were not born and those who were at the tender age should know our history for we have never had our history told by us, let us tell our own history. Let us have this history in our schools. Let us educate those White children who are growing up with our children. Let us educate our children who are growing up with White children, that even if there was this uprising in 1976 let us remain brothers and sisters.

MS SOOKA: Thank you very, very much for the evidence that you have given us. Thank you.

MR MAGUBANE: Thank you.

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