On a winter's day in 1976 more than 20 000 pupils from the African township complex of Soweto began a protest march against a Bantu Education Department regulation that Afrikaans be used as one of the languages of instruction in secondary schools. Several hours later, police and youths were engaged in running street battles all over the dusty township. During the next few weeks' dozens of other black townships across the country were involved in the most serious revolt against the white state since the Defiance and anti-Pass campaigns that peaked in 1960.
On 25 May 1976, Fred van Wyk, the director of the South African Institute of Race Relations, sent an 'urgent telegram to Progressive Reform Party mp Rene de Villiers: 'Deeply concerned Afrikaans medium controversy black schools,' it said. 'Position Soweto very serious. Could you discuss matter with Minister...?' De Villiers, a former editor of the country's biggest daily newspaper, 'The Star', immediately tried to set up an interview with one of the ministers responsible for the administration of 'Bantu' affairs, even though he must have realised that he did not stand a chance. How could one dyed-in-the-wool liberal belonging to a small English-speaking opposition party possibly hope to influence a coterie of ministers determined to follow to the last jot and tittle the native policies of the greatest Afrikaner nationalist ideologue of them all - Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd?
De Villiers tried his best but the man he got to see - Deputy Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, and Bantu Education Andries Treurnicht - did not share his concern. 'I'm not aware of any real problem,' he insisted throughout the brief interview. It was a statement that was later deservedly preserved for posterity: because a little more than three weeks after Treurnicht's glib assurance, Soweto took the lead in a countrywide rebellion that shook white South Africa to the core. And although the uprising was eventually put down - at a cost of hundreds of lives and millions of rands in damage, South Africa has not been quite the same since. In many ways Soweto '76 was a turning point - for the government, for Africans and for the white liberal establishment: it brought to an end almost two decades of African political inactivity, it gave rise to a generation of black consciousness-inspired activists determined to fight their own battles and it forced the government to look beyond brute force to safeguard what it saw as the 'right of whites to self-determination'. But more than that, it cleared the decks for the real fight -between African and Afrikaner nationalism.
Countdown to conflict
The main cause of the protests that started in African schools in the Transvaal at the beginning of 1975 was a directive from the Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as one of the languages of instruction in the department's secondary schools.
It was not a new rule. Verwoerd had thought of it more than 20 years earlier - in 1953 - when he devised his Bantu Education package. But in the context of bausskap, even Verwoerd was capable of errors of judgment; and when the language clause proved to be unworkable due to a shortage of teachers, a lack of Afrikaans textbooks and a grudging acceptance that pupils would have immense difficulty in coping with three languages as mediums of instruction, it was quietly forgotten by the white bureaucrats who ran African education.
In 1974, however, the Secretary for Bantu Education, Dr Hennie van Zyl, died and in the shake-up that followed his death, Bantu Education Minister, the dour M C Botha, decided to reintroduce the 50-50 ruling. Botha had no reason to believe there would be objections. After all, the system he administered had been designed specifically to condition Africans to accept the role of menials in a white man's country.
Bantu education - with its overcrowded classrooms, inadequately trained teachers and separate, inferior universities - was meant to shatter morale. And for many years it did precisely that (see page 379).
But in the late 1960s and early '70s it began to show distinct signs of wear and tear. Influenced by events outside South Africa - the death throes of colonialism in Africa, the rise of 'Black Power' in the usa and a growing worldwide antagonism towards apartheid - African students began to kick against the system.
Rise of black consciousness
Aware that they were the moral and intellectual equals of white students, but that they were the pawns in the racial and economic policies of the white government, African students began uniting under a new and highly significant banner: black consciousness (see box).
Black consciousness was, and perhaps still is, a new way of looking at the world. Liberation, its proponents argued, would come about only when Africans threw off their shackles of fear and their feelings of inferiority, and conducted their own political campaigns instead of relying on white liberals to map out their strategies. Whites, they argued, were too enmeshed in the apartheid system ever to be reliable allies.
Black consciousness engendered a new sense of pride in millions of Africans: blackness became something to be proud of, to be defiant about and worth fighting for. And so the message was spread - by students in the rural-based tribal colleges to younger brothers and sisters in the townships. Soon 'bc' became the rallying cry of an entire generation.
The pot begins to boil
Of all the government officials, Bantu Education Minister M C Botha was probably best qualified to read the danger signs in the storm that began to blow over African education. In 1943, when the Nationalists were in opposition, Botha, then secretary of a special Afrikaner Broederbond educational committee, had prepared an instruction that urged 'churches to encourage parents to refuse to send their children to schools where [United Party] government policy had been introduced.
'Where a minister is unsympathetic,' he had urged, 'a strong personality in the church council or congregation should take the lead; each member of a school committee should undertake responsibility for ten or so parminister of Bantu Education M C Botha pressed for the implementation of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. ents and children and persuade them to be ready to strike at a given moment.'
Now, Botha was a cabinet minister, and he chose kragdadigheid (literally, brute force) to crush opposition to government policies.
Thus, in February 1976, two members of the Meadowlands Tswana School Board were sacked for defying his instruction to use Afrikaans in schools. A few days later the remaining seven members of the board resigned in protest and over the next few weeks the situation deteriorated rapidly.
On 24 February Junior Certificate pupils at Thomas Mofolo Secondary clashed with their principal over the issue and on 17 May a class boycott was started at Orlando West Junior Secondary after a circuit inspector had turned down a request for a meeting. By 25 May the number of boycotting schools had risen to six. On 27 May an Afrikaans teacher at Pimville Higher Primary was stabbed and police were stoned when they tried to arrest a youth in connection with the assault.
Education authorities reacted to the growing unrest with a warning that they would not hesitate to shut down boycotting schools, expel pupils who had absented themselves for more than 10 days at a stretch and transfer teachers. But, if anything, their hard-line stance made matters worse.
At Belle Higher Primary pupils stoned school buildings and clashed with classmates who had returned to lessons; at Naledi High pupils twice clashed with police; at Emthonjeni pupils refused to write their social studies examination in Afrikaans, while Orlando West Junior Secondary was faced with a full-scale boycott of the entire June examinations.
On 11 June Van Wyk sent another telegram to De Villiers, who again spoke to Treurnicht. The Minister, however, disagreed that there had been an escalation of the dispute. He had reason to believe, he assured De Villiers, that the matter would be amicably settled. Five days later, the storm broke....
'Afrikaans is a tribal language'
On 13 June delegates representing all the secondary schools in Soweto elected an action committee to plan a protest march through the township, to be followed by a mass rally at the Orlando football stadium.
Secrecy was the byword in the hectic preparations that followed: it needed just one indiscreet word within ear- shot of one of the many impimpi (informers) to scuttle the plan, organisers repeatedly stressed at clandestine meetings. But they need not have worried. In the three days that they flitted in and out of schools to issue their hurried instructions, thousands of lips remained sealed. The march had been set for Wednesday, 16 June at 7am. But by 6 o'clock hundreds of pupils were already gathered at the more than a dozen assembly points. The mood of the crowd was relaxed, even jovial, when marshalls began handing out tattered pieces of cardboard on which were scrawled slogans such as 'Down with Afrikaans', 'Bantu Education - to hell with it', and 'Afrikaans is a tribal language'.
At precisely 7 o'clock, the first group of singing, chanting pupils began marching towards Orlando .... Clashes with the police began almost immediately: at White City in Jabavu, shots were fired at two schoolboys hurrying to catch the marchers, while at Dube Vocational College a teargas canister was thrown into a contingent of marchers. Later, several African policemen were put to flight when they tried to turn back another group. Shortly before 9am, a senior pupil addressed a crowd of several thousand outside Orlando West Junior Secondary: 'Brothers and sisters,' he said, 'I appeal to you - keep calm and cool. We have just received a report that the police are coming. Don't taunt them, don't do anything to them. Be cool and calm. We are not fighting.' Within minutes of his appeal, a contingent of police vans and cars arrived and about 50 policemen emerged from their vehicles to form an arc in front of the crowd, which began singing 'Morena Boloka Sechaba sa heso' (God Save our Nation).
The shooting begins
The upheaval that swept through Soweto began when a single teargas canister was hurled amidst the singing, placard-waving crowd. This was followed by a single shot, a wave of panic, a rain of stones,more shots and yet more stones. Sophie Tema, a journalist with the newspaper 'The World', described how, out of the chaos, she saw a group of children emerge carrying a critically wounded youth. His name was Hector Petersen, he was 13 years old, and he was covered in blood. She rushed him to a nearby
Black and proud - the origins of black consciousness
In the years that followed the banning in 1960 of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, African students began to look increasingly towards the multiracial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) as a vehicle through which to express their political aspirations. At first glance, it seemed a good move: in the early 1960s, the white NUSAS leadership tended to identify strongly with black causes. But in 1964, in the face of strong opposition by rank-and-file members to some of its more 'radical' policies, NUSAS dipped sharply to the right, confining itself to symbolic multiracial activities. It was the beginning of a period of deep frustration for the small black membership who, unable to articulate their grievances adequately, allowed themselves to be co-opted into the new, no-risks style of NUSAS politics.
However, South African politics is never static for long, and in 1967 a group of black students began seriously to analyse their political predicament. The prime mover in this regard was a young Natal University medical student named Steve Biko. Born in King William's Town in the eastern Cape in 1947, Biko had been introduced to politics as a teenager in 1963 when an older brother had been arrested as a suspected Poqo member and jailed for nine months. Biko himself had been questioned by the police regarding his brother. Expelled by Lovedale High School because of his brother's activities, he was sent to St Francis College at Mariannhill in Natal, and then enrolled at the black medical section of Natal University. A vastly talented political analyst, he was soon elected to the Students' Representative Council of the university, which in turn drew him into the activities of NUSAS. At the NUSAS congress in 1968, Biko and a group of friends began to draw black students into a candid discussion on their second-class role within the union. Later, at a University Christian Movement meeting in Stutterheim, he began actively to promote the idea of an all-black university movement.
In July 1969 the South African Students' Organisation (SASO) came into being with Biko as president. Although the new organisation was committed to a philosophy of black consciousness, it did not immediately reject the liberalism of NUSAS. Officials were only too aware that many members still held lingering loyalties towards the multiracial union. But by 1970 Biko felt confident enough to launch a series of attacks on white liberal thinking: 'The integration they [liberals] talk about... is artificial... a one-way course, with the whites doing all the talking and the blacks the listening,' he claimed in an article in the August edition of the SASO 'Newsletter'. And he also had some harsh words for Africans who had been drawn into the 'come-around-to-tea' circuit: 'One sees a perfect example of what oppression has done to the blacks. They have been made to feel inferior for so long that for them it is comforting to drink tea, wine or beer with whites who seem to treat them as equals. This serves to boost up their own ego to the extent of making them feel slightly superior to those blacks who do not get similar treatment from whites. These are the sorts of blacks who are a danger to the community.
' To Biko, a true liberal was a white person who directed all his energies into educating other whites and preparing them to accept a future system of majority rule. Until this came about, blacks had to go it alone, he argued. Black consciousness had an immediate appeal for thousands of black South Africans. Although it was not an organisation, it spawned a number of bodies that espoused its philosophy. By 1972 a Black Peoples' Convention had been set up to act as an umbrella body to coordinate its adherents.
In 1977, however, black consciousness was dealt a series of devastating body blows: in September of that year, Biko died after 26 days in police detention; and in October, Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger banned 17 organisations and two newspapers ('World' and 'Weekend World'), all of which he claimed supported black consciousness.
clinic in her car, but he was certified dead on arrival. Later, the photograph of Petersen being carried away became a symbol of the tragedy that was 16 June. The police, meanwhile, heavily outnumbered by the furious crowd, retreated towards Orlando East, giving the demonstrators a chance to collect their casualties - at least two dead and more than a dozen wounded. As news of the shooting spread, pupils began erecting barricades across the dusty streets. By noon, hundreds of police reinforcements had been rushed to the area. But there was little they could do to stop the crowds that attacked the property and employees of the West Rand Administration Board (wrab). Two wrab employees were murdered by angry crowds; later, smoke billowed over the township as offices and vehicles belonging to the board were put to the torch. Other targets included WRAB-controlIed beer halls and bottlestores. Hundreds of cases of beer were removed from these premises and broken on the pavements by pupils chanting "less liquor, better education'. The next day the government closed the schools, poured more police reinforcements into the area and placed the army on alert. But in the continuing violence hundreds of people were killed and 143 vehicles and 139 buildings destroyed. As news of the shooting began appearing on television screens and in newspapers in the rest of the world, South Africa's economy, already showing signs of decline after the post-Sharpeville boom years, took a devastating knock: gold shares dropped by an average of 75 cents on the London stock exchange, while De Beers diamond shares fell nearly 15 cents. Big business reacted to these developments with alarm. Of the net foreign capital inflow of RBOO-million during 1976, R536-million consisted of short-term loans. With growing horror businessmen realised that if Soweto was to follow the pattern of the Sharpeville unrest in 1960, overseas borrowing would become appreciably more difficult and the economy would suffer a downturn.
On 17 June, Treurnicht dealt with the Afrikaans language controversy in a speech in Windhoek, Namibia: the government, he said, was prepared to be as accommodating as possible as far as the use of Afrikaans at African schools was concerned.
But in the next breath, he added: 'In the white areas of South Africa [Soweto was deemed to be part of 'white' South Africa], where the government erects the buildings, grants the subsidies and pays the teachers, it is our right to decide on language policy. The same applies to schools in areas where there is no compulsory education. Why are pupils sent to schools if [our] language policy does not suit them?'
That same day in parliament, Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger accused the University Christian Movement of having 'initiated a polarisation between black and white and the development of black power consciousness'. 'The other question one has to ask oneself,' Kruger continued, 'is why the young people walked with their fists in the air? Why do they walk with upraised fists? Surely this is the sign of the Communist Party?'
On 18 June, Prime Minister John Vorster broke his silence with a typically tough speech: 'The government will not be intimidated,' he told parliament. 'Orders have been given to maintain order at all costs.'
The first step was a ban, in terms of the Riotous Assemblies Act, on all outdoor public meetings except bona fide sports events. Later, in analysing the nature of what he referred to as 'so-called black grievances', Kruger said: 'Many [grievances]. . . are far-fetched. Some are impractical and some are real. But I have not found any grievances that would indicate that Bantu Administration has flopped on the job.'
The spontaneous unrest of Africans throughout the country appeared to suggest otherwise. Of course, it was not so much Afrikaans as the whole system of Bantu education (and ultimately apartheid) that was the bone of contention for African students. This was apparent even before the outbreak of unrest. For instance, at the entrance of one Soweto school, pupils had daubed a slogan that read 'Enter to learn, leave to serve'. And during the protests a pamphlet addressed to parents stated:'. . . you should rejoice for having given birth to this type of child ... a child who prefers to die from a bullet rather than to swallow a poisonous education which relegates him and his parents to a position of perpetual subordination.' On the same theme, a Press statement released by the Soweto Students' Representative Council shortly after its formation in August 1976, stated: 'Twenty years ago, when Bantu Education was introduced, our fathers said: ' 'Half a loaf is better than no loaf.'' But we say: ' 'Half a gram of poison is just as killing as the whole gram."'
The last journey of Stephen Bantu Biko
Late on the night of 18 August 1977 banned eastern Cape political activist Steve Biko was detained at a police roadblock that had been especially set up for him on the outskirts of Grahamstown. Twenty-six days later he was dead - from massive head injuries sustained in a room at security police headquarters in central Port Elizabeth.
Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger, who announced the death in a rambling statement on the morning of 13 September, clearly believed that Biko had died as a result of a hunger strike: "... since 5 September,' he said, 'Mr Biko refused his meals and threatened a hunger strike .... The District Surgeon was called in on 7 September after Mr Biko appeared to be unwell. . . [but] he could not find anything wrong.' The rest of the statement detailed further doctors' visits, a suspicion by both police and medical men that
Biko might have been feigning illness and, finally, a 1120-kilometre dash by Land Rover to get the ill man to a prison hospital in Pretoria
Kruger, who had a reputation as a hawk, reached new heights the next day at the Transvaal Congress of the National Party: 'I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr Biko .... He leaves me cold,' he told an appreciative audience of cabinet ministers, MPs and other pillars of the party. Later a delegate from Springs, capturing the mood of the gathering, drew roars of laughter when he praised the Minister for granting Biko 'his democratic right to starve himself to death'.
'Inciting blacks to cause riots' Elsewhere in the country, mainly in the African townships, news of the death of the black consciousness leader was greeted with shock - shock that turned to anger when the story of Biko's final days unfolded at an inquest that opened in Pretoria on 2 November 1977 .... Not formally charged with committing a crime, Biko had been held under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act that allowed for the indefinite detention, for the purposes of interrogation, of any person either thought to be a 'terrorist', or who had information regarding the activities of 'terrorists'.
It was a detention that security police justified by claiming that at the time of his arrest he was on his way to Cape Town to distribute 'inflammatory' pamphlets . . . 'inciting blacks to cause riots'.
On 19 August, after spending the night in a police cell in Grahamstown, he was taken to the Walmer police station in Port Elizabeth where he was held, naked, 'in order to prevent him from hanging himself with his clothes'. On 6 September, still naked, but now also in leg irons, he was taken to security police headquarters where a five-man team headed by
Major Harold Snyman began interrogating him. What happened there became the subject of a series of heated exchanges between Sydney Kentridge, counsel for the Biko family, and members of the security police.
'He bumped his head against a wall'
The autopsy had revealed the cause of death as a blow [or blows) to the head, struck with enough force almost certainly to have rendered Biko unconscious. Snyman's explanation was that Biko had bumped his head against a wall during a struggle. He had jumped up with a 'wild look' in his eyes after being confronted with evidence that linked him to riots, arson and boycotts - and it had taken five men to restrain him, said the major. If this were so, countered Kentridge, why was it not mentioned in any of the 28 affidavits made by police and doctors involved?
Kentridge was particularly scathing in his criticism of the conduct of doctors Ivory Lang, Benjamin Tucker and Colin Hersch, all of whom admitted making incorrect diagnoses. The police, he claimed, faced with allegations that they had assaulted Biko, had closed ranks and entered into a conspiracy of silence into which the doctors had allowed themselves to be drawn. They had gone along with a police theory that Biko was feigning when it must have been obvious that he steve biko's coffin is carried through the Victoria Stadium in King William's Town under the flag of the Black People's Convention was, in fact, gravely ill. And even when they were finally moved to suggest that he be taken to hospital, they allowed him to be placed naked in the back of a police Land Rover for a journey of more than 1000 kilometres to Pretoria. There, said Kentridge, Biko 'died a miserable and lonely death on a mat on a stone floor of a prison cell'.
'We don't work under statutes'
A telex sent by the head of the Port Elizabeth security branch, Colonel Piet Goosen, to Pretoria, cast further doubts on police evidence: describing the events leading to Biko's
death, the telex mentioned an injury 'inflicted on' Biko at 7 am on 7 September. Recalled to the stand, Goosen explained 'inflicted on' as a play on words. Earlier, in another clash with Goosen, Kentridge asked the security police chief who had given him the authority to keep a man in chains for 48 hours. 'I have the full power to do it to ensure a man's safety,' he replied. 'I am asking you to give the statute,' insisted Kentridge. 'We don't work under statutes,' said Goosen. 'Thank you very much,' answered Kentridge. 'That is what we have always suspected.' The Chief Magistrate of Pretoria, Marthinus Prins, said that Biko's death had probably been caused by head injuries sustained in a scuffle with security police. 'The available evidence does not prove that the death was brought about by any act or omission involving or amounting to an offence on the part of any person.'
Business responds to strife in the cities
a school built jointly by Africans and the Urban Foundation. urban foundation leaders Harry Oppenheimer of Anglo-American (left), an Steyn, a former judge and new Chief Executive Officer of the foundation, and tobacco magnate Anton Rupert (right).
In 1976, at the height of the countrywide unrest. Harry Oppenheimer and Anton Rupert, the two giants of South Africa's English and Afrikaans business worlds, met at a London
hotel to seek ways and means of persuading the government to encourage the growth of an African middle class, as an ally for the whites and a bulwark against socialism. The result was the launch, in March 1977, of the Urban Foundation (uf) - an organisation dedicated to creating opportunities for Africans in areas such as home-ownership and education. Previously, business had shown little interest in more enlightened policy; many had benefited from apartheid legislation, especially labour control. But as the 1980s saw intensified conflict in the cities, increased pressure from abroad, and an extended economic crisis, business leaders expressed an increasingly vocal desire for reform. Pointing out that Africans were integral to South African society, they called for the scrapping of discriminatory laws, and insisted that the many Africans who could not afford to compete in the marketplace should be given a minimum access to facilities. From the outset, the up was active in the fields of job-training schemes, literacy work, and pre-school and adult education. Its major contribution, however, has been in the area of housing and urban policy. Led by former Supreme Court Judge, Jan Steyn, the uf played a key role in persuading the government to introduce the 99-year leasehold scheme which permitted a form of African homeownership in townships within white South Africa. Following this breakthrough, it was also a leading light in the granting of loans by corporations to African white-collar workers.
But in the 1980s the uf was viewed by many blacks as an arm of P W Botha's 'total strategy' - and much of its work was conducted outside the public eye. By the 1990s, the political climate had so changed that the uf was able with considerable fanfare to unveil its proposals on urbanisation. The proposals dealt with housing, land usage and ownership, the urban economy, and town and regional planning. They have had considerable influence on local and central authorities, the private sector, and some academics - but some critics charged that the uf was replacing race bars with economic barriers and had failed to redress the imbalances of apartheid. Many of the recommendations have subsequently become government policy, including the scrapping of discriminatory legislation governing land ownership and control, abandonment of the decentralisation policy, and the acceptance of informal settlement as a feature of city life.
By 1990, there were an estimated 5-7 million squatters in South Africa and the government acknowledged that 70 percent of blacks could not afford to pay R10 000 for a house. Concern for what amounted to a huge housing crisis with major social, economic and political implications led the government to establish with an initial grant of R2-billion the Independent Development Trust (IDT) under the leadership of Jan Steyn. The idt expressed its aim as black economic empowerment and much of its thinking has been underpinned by the uf's perspectives. Wary of rejection by the extra-parliamentary movement, however, the idt first conducted a series of negotiations with community organisations and political parties.
The idt's initial grants focused on land ownership. Rl,56-billion or 61 percent was allocated to housing on the basis of site-and-service. The idt set up a capital subsidy scheme, granted funds for development of informal settlements and looked at establishing a finance corporation to fund housing for the poor. At the same time several service organisations with links to black communities also examined housing and land issues. While they lacked the funds available to the up and idt, their research was fed into the policy of civic organisations, trade unions and political organisations, such as the anc. Thus all parties to the negotiated settlement were fully informed on urban policy issues.
The unrest spreads
Unrest was not confined to Soweto. Less than two weeks after the first clashes between police and pupils, violence had spread like wildfire - first to neighbouring townships on the Reef, and then further afield. By August at least 80 black communities throughout the country had vented their anger.
In Cape Town, 30 people died in unrest that broke out on 11 August in the African townships of Langa, Guguletu and Nyanga. Then, in a significant development at the beginning of September, coloured pupils and students from the Western Cape universities and training colleges joined the protests. Thirty more deaths were reported in the violence that followed.
In Soweto the initial violence burnt itself out within a few days, but calm was not restored to the township until the beginning of 1978. Certainly, for the remainder of 1976 and the whole of 1977, clashes between police and pupils, the burning of schools and beer halls and the mass detention of suspected activists became a regular part of the black experience.
Swopping books for AK-47s
Although in the end guns triumphed over stones and burning barricades, the sullen peace that returned to the townships merely signalled the beginning of a new phase of African resistance to apartheid. The Soweto uprisings brought to maturity a new generation of Africans who believed in their own worth and their right to equal treatment. Having acquired a taste for battle, hundreds of them began slipping over South Africa's borders into neighbouring states to join the banned nationalist movements, the African National Congress (anc) and the Pan-Africanist Congress (Pac). Although the majority of volunteers were black consciousness adherents, most ended up in the training camps and schools of the 'non-racial' anc (the Pac, at that stage, was wracked by internal squabbles and, in fact, existed only in name).
Appreciably strengthened by this unexpected influx, the ANC began stepping up its low-level and often badly executed campaign of insurgency. Within a year of the countrywide rebellion of the young, the first groups of the class of '76 - now armed with the ubiquitous AK-47 machineguns, limpet mines and hand grenades - began slipping back into the country.
The best intelligence system in Africa
In many ways, the South African security forces proved more than equal to the new challenge. Boasting one of the most effective intelligence-gathering systems in the world (thanks to a vast national and international informer network), the police and army were able to crush many of the anc's most carefully planned campaigns.
Certainly, when the then head of the Security Police, General Johan Coetzee, claimed in an interview with 'New York Times' journalist Joseph Leiyveld that there was little he did not know about what was going on in the anc, he was probably speaking the truth. And yet - despite the fact that setbacks outnumbered successes -- guerrillas were occasionally able to evade the security net long enough to carry out acts of sabotage. And in this respect, the attack early in 1980 on the oil-from-coal refinery at Sasolburg in the Orange Free State was probably the most spectacular. Six storage tanks were set ablaze by a three-man anc team - and several days later, a thick pall of smoke was still drifting over Johannesburg, more than 80 kilometres away. The homing of construction work on the Koeberg nuclear power station was also noteworthy.
The making of a guerrilla
Well aware that a military victory over the state's security forces was out of the question, the chief purpose of the anc's hit-and-run raids was psychological - to shatter the morale of government supporters and to increase its own backing in the townships.
To a certain extent, it succeeded in its latter aim. But the cost, in terms of lives lost, was awesome. Between 1976 and the anc's suspension of the armed struggle in 1990, many of the young people who fled South Africa to join Umkhonto we Sizwe were either caught or killed.
What drove so many young South Africans to take up arms against the National Party Government? Sometimes answers were given at the tail-end of treason trials. And, almost always, the words which cropped up were 'poverty' and 'humiliation'.
In 1978, Mosima Gabriel Sexwale, one member of the class of '76, addressed a Pretoria Supreme Court judge shortly after his conviction on a charge of high treason: 'Now that I have been convicted,' he said, 'I want to explain my actions so that you ... should understand why I chose to join the struggle for the freedom of my people.... It was during my primary school years that the bare facts concerning the realities of South African society and its discrepancies began to unfold before me. I remember a period in the early 1960s, when there was a great deal of political tension, and we often used to encounter armed police in Soweto.... I remember the humiliation to which my parents were subjected by whites in shops and in other places where we encountered them, and the poverty. 'All these things had their influence on my young mind ... and by the time I went to Orlando West High School, I was already beginning to question the injustice of the society ... and to ask why nothing was being done to change it,' said the young activist. 'It is true that I was trained in the use of weapons and explosives. The basis of my training was in sabotage, which was to be aimed at institutions and not people. I did not wish to add unnecessarily to the grievous loss of human life that had already been incurred. It has been suggested that our aim was to annihilate the white people of this country; nothing could be further from the truth. The anc is a national liberation movement committed to the liberation of all the people of South Africa, black and white, from racial fear, hatred and oppression,' he told the court. 'I am married and have one child, and would like nothing more than to have more children, and to live with my wife and children with all the people in this country. One day that might be possible -- if not for me, then at least for my brothers.'