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Interview by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, Johannesburg, September 1993
Suspension points in this interview and in any quotes extracted from this interview indicate a pause or break in the flow of conversation.
Ellipses in square brackets indicate text omitted.
In 1976 the involvement of the students … I was doing my Standard 8 … came about in the northern Transvaal-where I was-from a diverse
different perspective. I would say that most of the students that got involved there, they got involved not necessarily because of their interests
in politics, as much as … they were having an interest then in doing away with Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in school, which was
disturbing many black people for obvious reasons. Afrikaans has been known as the language of the oppressor, the oppressor of the fathers of the
children who were then teenagers. And so Afrikaans was just an out language, it wasn't loved by many young people. So the objective there, the
object that the students were really fighting against, and that I was fighting against there, was mainly Afrikaans as the medium of instruction.
But, if I were to tell you how I got involved myself, I would tell you that it has been partly because of what I have just said now, and partly
because of my background, my life background from my family where I grew up. I grew up in a family that was a bit open, that had a vision, regarding
the injustices, the unjust practices that were taking place. And the main contributing person to my background here was my elder brother, who kept
on indoctrinating me while I was still a very small boy. So when I went to secondary school, for my secondary education, already I knew what was
happening in South Africa. Maybe in a broader [spirit? struggle? unclear] than most of my contemporaries.
And in 1976, when we got involved, I remember that I was, I was the chairman of the local school, of the local political suborganization at our
high school. I was the chairman then and, if I were to remember very well, this suborganization fell under the BPC, you should be knowing the
BPC … and I was a member of the BPC then. So we were exposed, quite exposed, to the organization in the country as a whole against apartheid.
We would have some speakers, some guests that would be coming from the Reef here, Johannesburg, they would come and visit us and they would talk
with us, you know, as the executive committee … things of that sort. What should I tell you more about my involvement? I should tell you that
when the whole strike happened 1976 I was leading it at school. Mainly I was leading it. To an extent that when I was arrested I became accused
number two, and accused number one was a friend of mine, that we associated with very well. But I became accused number two, and this accused
number one was a young man that came from Pretoria-I have never seen him since. But I got arrested. We were 35, all the students that were arrested
at school and we went to prison. We stayed for about two months in prison. And eventually we were taken to court, where we appeared, magistrate's
court, locally at Sibasa. And we had some legal representatives that we didn't understand so much as to how they were organized, but later on we
understood that it was through the BPC political organizations-Black Consciousness Movement. So these representatives, legal representatives,
they came and they stood on our behalf until the case was transferred from the magistrate court to the regional court, and it went to Louis Trichardt.
At Louis Trichardt, that is where the case ended eventually. But there had been some rumors then, you know, there had been some rumors that we
would end up locked [up], that we were going to end up in Robben Island, and all things like that.
I am trying just to come up with an account here, in not so much an organized form. I might go back. Because I am remembering that the 1976 era before,
before we were arrested, the activities in which we were involved, there were such activities at school as organizing and conscientizing other students.
We had a very organized body then, and we would also try and organize other schools. Our school, which was Sibasa High School, was seen to be the center
of this movement. So we would go out and organize other schools as well, go traveling as long distances as, covering long distances as about 40, 50
kilometers, without any sponsor. We would just do that from our pockets, as students from our pocket moneys, sacrificing our time. And of course we,
we had also done away, before we were arrested we had done away with the school program … class programs … for about three months, I think,
we were no more engaged in school activities.
Before I got arrested, there has been a day, which I think you would be interested to possibly know. A day, whereby we had a strike at the school.
And … we were living in the school boarding facilities of course … and we were no more attending, like I tell you, we were no more attending
the classes. There had just been a standstill of program, every program at school. And the police decided to visit our campus. These were black
police, white police, Afrikaners. And they came to the school. But, they didn't know what to do. They were not called by the principal of the school,
the authorities of the school. But apparently they had been informed and called by some security people that lived around the school, you know, what
we used to term in those days: "informers."
They came in many, I think about five, vehicles, the police vehicles, and there were quite a lot. Now, when they came to the school, they had a problem
of, of what to say to the students. You know, we were just striking peacefully, we were not burning anything, destroying anything, but then they had a
problem. And the only thing they could try to do was to try to find who the ringleader, or who the ringleaders were. And we stood with them there,
facing each other. They were grouped, and we were grouped one side, facing them. They were addressing us and they were asking us, "Who are your
leaders?" And they said we want to know your leaders, so your leaders have to tell us exactly what you are striking for. But I understood that they
wanted a ringleader. And that they didn't want a ringleader for the purpose that they were saying, but for other reasons … for interrogation, and
things of that sort.
I didn't regard myself really to be a ringleader as such, but I knew that I was one of those that could be regarded as leaders there. Without answering
them, I don't know how they detected these people, these people have leapt out [unclear]. They … one then asked me a direct question, came to me,
and he said, "Man, we have been told that you are the leader of the group, is it true?" Then I asked him, "Who told you?" And he said, "The principal
told me." And then I asked him, "Who did the principal say I am?" And then he couldn't answer the question because he wasn't told by the principal. And
what he did, rather, was to call other police, and shout, "Here is the ringleader, here is the ringleader." That they came and I was beaten. Taken into
the van, locked into the van, and everybody was looking at me, from the police, very suspiciously and very surprisedly, comments about "you are the
ringleader," and they would call me names, insults…
And then what happened was, while I was there, the girls started to join, to come march from their dormitory and joining up with the boys. And they
demanded that I must be taken out. Then the police realized that arresting me was going to cause much havoc to the school than otherwise. They came
then eventually to me and they said, well, this was an Afrikaner person, I just forget his name, he came with an interpreter, and he said, "Man, we
would love to know your names." And I should tell you that I didn't give my right names there [laughs]. But then, having written my names, he
apologized, I asked for an apology. He said, "Well, we have realized that we have wronged you … we were not told by the principal." The principal
had already come to the van, and he had looked at me, and he had asked, "What's happening?" And then I told him, "They are alleging that you told him,
you told them that I am the ringleader." And I think he went and talked with them.
So they came and they said [about being a sellout], "No, we apologize and we realize that we have wronged you and we are now going to release you, but
on condition please, if you could promise us, that you are going to report to us any mishap that will happen in this school from now on." I should tell
you that in my life I haven never faced a more difficult question than that. You know, this question you don't know what to answer. You don't know
whether you should give an affirmative or negative answer because of the implications involved if you say no, you feel that you are going to be targeted
as an enemy because this is what they will understand. And if you say yes, you know that from that day on, you will be selling your own people.
That would mean you would become an informer?
Yes, you see, this is what they meant, of course. So, I answered the question very dodgingly I should say. And I said to them, "Well, I will come,
I promise that I will come and inform you of any mishap that would take place here in school, but please, let it be a mishap that I understand to
be a mishap. Anything that I will understand to be something out of order, I will come and report it to you. But, if you don't see me reporting,
you should know that I haven't seen anything that's out of order." So that's how I was released then.
The day we striked, and eventually I got arrested, we had gone out of school… it was the first day of writing examinations for the senior
students, that's Form 5, Standard 10. And then we decided that we were going to tear, to destroy all the examination papers, because we didn't
want to write "Bantu" examinations. So, I lead the whole group and we got into the examination room where the students had already sat, and we
told them that they should get out, grabbed all the papers that they were having, even those that were not distributed as yet, and we destroyed them.
We bent them, we tear them, just confiscated all of them, and we even went to the office of the principal and we demanded that we must be given the
balance of all the papers of other subjects. During those days they would bring all the papers of the examinations of all the subjects [even to
return in the two weeks to come? unclear]. So we demanded all those papers, and we were given all those papers, and we destroyed them. After
that I remember the principal was very much scared, he was scared because the students wanted now to start looting the property, burning the cars
[unclear] schools. I remember that I had to tell them that they shouldn't do it. And, students used to respect me, they would listen to me. When
the principal called me he was more concerned about their cars. Their cars were parked in one area, all the cars of the teachers, and he said, "Sam,
tell me that they are not going to burn the school." I said, "There will not be any burning of the school." And then he asked me, "Are our cars safe?"
I said, "Your cars are very safe." But students had already started throwing some stones at some few cars. And I went and I stood where the cars were,
and I gave orders to all the students that no car should, [unclear] no stoning of any car. Students knew my philosophy regarding this. I had ever held,
held high, the philosophy that, you know, when you are struggling, you need not to be violent, you don't need to destroy the property. Property is
something else, that doesn't know anything. And, once I ordered them that they shouldn't continue destroying the cars, stoning the cars then they
stopped. And then they went past.
We were going to hijack the buses that we should be transported to other schools so that we should destroy the [whole] examination process in all
Where did the buses come from?
The busses came from diverse angles, diverse areas of the country, mostly from the eastern side of the country. And also from the northern side
of the country… Makuya, such areas, as you know. And so we knew, that we could possibly come up with about four busses, and we did that. We
went out of the school premises and we went to the main road and we blocked the busses, hauled all of the passengers out, got into the busses and
we ordered the busses that they should take us to where we wanted to go. And they took us to the schools where we wanted to go. We start one the
other area, one the other area, but the one that I got into, it was going to the capital, a little town, Sibasa, and that is where we had another
strong school there, and we went there, got into the school and again, we went to the principal. I remember that when we got to the school, we took
them by surprise. The principal and the staff, they were sitting in the staff room, and they didn't expect us. Just when we got there we stood at
the door and then I marched in and I went to the principal. I told him, "We want examination papers." And, he was a very cool man, and he said, "What
did you want again?" and I said, "Examination papers." And he said, "OK, here they are." He opened the cabinet and he said, "Come and take them."
And then I took all the papers and gave them to other students that were standing there, and they would … confiscated all of them. And I asked
him secondly, "Are these all the papers?" and he opened another cupboard, and he said, "OK, here are the balance." And I went and took them out,
and we destroyed them.
Now, when we were still doing that, and we had already ordered some students, that were writing examinations, out of their examination room and
confiscated the papers they were busy with. While we were still doing that, the police arrived. The police station was very close to this school,
a distance of about two kilometers. And so they arrived, and when they arrived, we ran out. We ran out of the campus and we grouped together. Now,
police were afraid. Once we were grouped together they wouldn't just come as readily as all that. When we started marching back, from Sibasa north,
marching northward, going back now to our school, the police came again, following us, and they came with guns, rifles. And then they started shooting.
There was no one of us who was hurt. We ran, wildly, and in an unorganized fashion. Just as we were running, then they started chasing after us. I
was not arrested there and then. I managed to run away there. And when we were free, marching down, until we were almost free of any fear, we thought
they wouldn't follow us any more, then we saw some cars coming, the vans of the policemen. And, at first I shouted, "We must not run away," because
I knew that solidarity would spare them. But, some students started running away, and eventually I started running, also. And as I was running away,
without necessarily seeing any policeman that was running after me, I heard a shot, sound of a gun, and when I looked back I saw that a white
policeman was chasing after me and he had shot what I regarded to be a warning shot. Then I stood and surrendered, lifted up my hands and he came
and he arrested me, handcuffed me, and then he said, "We must go back to the road" where he had left the van. We went back. Along the way, as we
were going through the bush area, as we were going back, I saw him stand still at a certain place, he looked around, and he, you know I thought
he wanted to get a stick to beat me, but then he went, and he [unclear] and he picked up a bush knife. Came back with the bush knife and he said
in Afrikaans, "Dis joune," that's yours [laughs]. Then I said, no that's not mine. I knew I had not carried a bush knife. I should admit
that were some students that had carried some bush knives and things of that sort from the school when we left. I, all the time, I regarded violence
as not part of the struggle, and I wouldn't carry such a thing. So, we went black to the van where a black sergeant has been waiting for us, who
started asking me the details of my names and all that, opening a docket for me, and when the Afrikaner policemen said, "This is his bush knife,"
I objected. The policeman said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to write that this is yours." [He] talked in Venda.
But when we got to the police station, and interrogation started, I realized that he had deceived me. He had written that I was holding a bush knife.
And the interrogation was very tough, very tough. We would get into the interrogating room one by one, and we would find a group of policemen, a group
of about five, and then they would start grabbing you, each one of them, in his own way. You would fall down, I would fall down, and they would kick,
kick the ribs, stamp on your body. And the interrogation would usually be, "Tell, who are other people, other than those that were arrested, that
you were with?" And you would start by mentioning your friends, people you thought that they would understand if they knew that it was very difficult,
under very difficult circumstances when you mention their names, eventually you would run out of friends. And you would start just mentioning every
other person, every other student that was present there. I want to tell you that we were interrogated even by other means, the means of a sack that
would, that would be put in water, it would be wet sack, little sack, then it would be put around your neck and they will tighten it.
On your head?
Yes, on your head, and they would tighten it around the neck. You know, you wouldn't see who is beating you. And, you know, that sack would make it
very hard for you to breathe. Eventually you would find yourself falling down. I lost my hearing. My hearing … one of my ears doesn't hear even
now. Due to those interrogations, my eardrum got messed. And, that's what happened. But, like I told you, eventually we had to appear in court.
Fortunately enough, when we went to the regional court, appearing three, four times, we got discharged. We got discharged because of the lies of the
police. [Clarification: This was the same court case referred to above.]
I want to believe that we were free, mainly because of the lies of the police. This is what the judge said. And of course the judge, they had to employ
a special judge, from Johannesburg, who they believed understood the havoc, as they called it in 1976, was associated with what was happening here. And,
as much as he wanted to find us guilty, but he confessed at the end of it all, that he was mostly disappointed by the lies of the police.
What kind of lies?
You see, when they arrested us … it's not every policeman that did like the one that arrested me, writing our names immediately after we were arrested.
So they ended up having a problem of not knowing who they arrested. This was the main, main area, that caused them to tell a lie. So, eventually when we
went and appeared in court they had just to divide us amongst the police that went out. And they would say, "Well, three of them have been arrested by this
man, four of them had been arrested by this man …" But we, fortunately, knew the people that had arrested us, I mean, it's obvious. But they didn't
remember. And then they couldn't come to us and ask us, "By the way, who arrested you?" Some of the policemen we didn't even know.
So, when we went to court we would tell our lawyer, [our? unclear] advocates, that they are lying. They are not the people that arrested us. And
they wouldn't even remember where they arrested some of the people. They arrested most of us that day while we were marching back, but from the file that
they drew, when we were revealing other names, they would even pursue and follow other people, other names. Arrested them later, at school, in different
homes, they would follow them. And they just kept a very poor profile … record. And so, they would tell a different story. The policeman would stand
up and he would say, "I arrested so-and-so," and they knew only the names and they didn't remember the faces of the people that they arrested.
And we had told our lawyer, I remember that he came to a proposition where he eventually asked us that we must mingle, we must get disorganized in as
far as the order, the sequence of our numbers is concerned. And then he asked us that we must turn our numbers up side down, inside out. And then he
asked those policemen. [Unclear] they told them that you are not the ones that arrested these people. And they would say, vehemently, "We are the ones
that arrested them, we know them very well." And you know how the police will react, police will always think that the law is with them, and they will
answer very stupidly. And they said, "You are telling us we are not the ones, not he ones who arrested, we are the ones. If you say that we are not the
ones, then you should tell us who arrested these people."
And eventually then he said, "OK, could you …" call one policeman, and he said, "Could you go and point at the students that you arrested." And you
see, it would be easy for him just to count. If he knows he has arrested, he has written, he has arrested number ten, eleven, twelve. Then he will go,
"This one, and this one, and this one." And the lawyer would say to him, "Could you mention the names?" [laughs] this was very interesting, and then he
would mention the names and then the lawyer would say, OK, to those accused, OK turn your cards the right way now. And the police is like dismayed, he
would find that he has pointed the wrong people altogether. So maybe it has been, because of that, that eventually the law couldn't do anything with us,
and we were released.
Can you describe the atmosphere in the court?
The atmosphere in the court is very tense, and very hurting. The magistrate's court I wasn't very much pained as I was in regional court. The regional
court, I remember that I shed tears, not once. You see I am one person that believes in telling the truth, even if the truth is going to hurt. And,
when I started realizing that they were telling lies-even my bush knife, in quotes-it was mentioned in the regional court, that I was carrying a bush
knife, and it was displayed. So I had to tell my lawyer, that, well, that this is not true. And I remember that I had to pray, and that I cried and
prayed there. While I was there, I prayed and I said, "Lord, as much as I know that I could be wrong, truth must, must. eventually prevail." The
atmosphere in the court is the atmosphere whereby you have the whole animosity, exhibited between the accused, the arrested, and the police people.
The atmosphere in the court is an atmosphere whereby you see a biased judge who is there only to find that you are guilty eventually. You are seated
on hard benches, here you are facing the judge and you know what's going to happen there, that you are going to be found guilty. It's an uncertain
atmosphere, uncertain circumstances and it's tense. Eventually, like I say, we got out, and then we went back to our school.
Can we just go back over the timing? You said that the first strike was in '76?
That's right. That was 1976 in July, July, if not August …
… and the destruction of the exams …
It happened in November.
I didn't tell you that when we got arrested in 1976 we were placed in the same custody with criminals, and when you would get in there … you
would be abused, criminals, criminals would hit, would start beating you inside. We were very much beaten by criminals. But, fortunately, we were
changed, a day after we were put into custody, from the cell wherein I was, we were divided into various cells. But I was changed from there, I was
placed into custody number one, cell number one, which is the hardest, it has got the criminals that are hard, you know, those that murder [unclear].
And, when we got there, at first I thought that it was to my disadvantage of course, but when we got in we found a certain man who knew us, who was
arrested. And he was the boss of that cell. He came from very close to our school. And so when we got there, he just said, "What do you want here?"
He was a taxi man, he said, "What do you want?" and ordered us to sit down, and then we were no more abused. But the abuses in the cells range from
being beaten, they go to sodomy, and we have some students that we were arrested with that were exposed to such circumstances. Very bad circumstances
indeed. And we would be exposed to all the atrocities in the cells. Forced to scrub the walls, being forced to drink the waters from the toilets,
things of that sort.
How many people were in a cell?
We were ten students that were placed in this cell, but we found a group of about ten more … criminals inside. So we were a group of about twenty.
How old were the students, you and the others?
We were teenagers, ranging from 15 years to, I think, 20 years. I was … let me see … in '76, I was 19 then. And I needed to tell you how we
were bailed, eventually we were given bail out. But it was requested by our principal. Our principal was a very understanding person. This particular
day when he came and he requested that we must be bailed out … we just saw the warder coming, and he shouted that "all students from Sibasa high
school, you get out." And we thought that we were going for interrogation because that was a daily process. But then we saw the principal once we got
to the charge room, we saw the principal. And he was being insulted very badly by the policeman, Afrikaner policeman. They were calling him names,
they were telling him the consequences that he would face if we were to run away and escape. So he talked with us and he said, "Please, you don't
escape, I am only taking you today because it is the day you are supposed to write examinations on, and … the police … I am taking you back,
that you must go and write examinations."
I should tell you that we went back to the school and we wrote examinations, though we had disrupted those first examinations. And of course, we
had learned that after we had gone to prison, the students … the government provided other examination papers, and the examination process
continued peacefully in all the schools. So when we went out we just went back and we wrote examinations. The first day that I got to the school, I
remember that I arrived around 2 pm, got into the examination room, without even a paper, without finishing, without a pen in hand. Just to sit down
and write mathematics … Standard 8. But then I managed to pass.
And in 1977, after the acquittal, there was a second strike… The whole of 1977, when we assumed the program, we presumed the program of the school,
we didn't attend school… I was doing Standard 9 then. But it was just a habit for us to organize ourselves, and we wouldn't attend any program
until June, July, same time. We organized the whole country. All the students, all the schools. We are talking about 100 or so high schools and
secondaries that we should get to a stadium where we should address students. And after addressing students, then we should go home, and never
returning. Because, still, Afrikaans was not done away with as yet, and we were still objecting against the same objection. And, of course, we wanted
even our prisoners, our political prisoners, to be released, Mandela, Sisulu, Oliver Tambo… We wanted him to be back. We had Robert Sobukwe
then, with PAC, we had quite some few, that we were calling, that they should come back… [Bandera? unclear] of AZAPO who was in Robben Island then
… that was toward the end of '77. And then this very, this particular day wherein we gathered together at the stadium. We went to the stadium, we
were a massive crowd of students come by busses from all angles of the country. We were so many that police came, but they wouldn't dare to enter the
stadium. They just parked their vehicles outside, and they addressed us through the megaphones, shouted to us. So we didn't listen to them, and we
were doing our own business here.
Where was the stadium?
It was in Sibasa. And, so, after we had addressed the students, and we had told them what to do, that we were now willing to go away back to our
schools, take our belongings, go home, peacefully, we eventually then resolved that this is what we are going to do and we marched out of the
stadium. A big crowd. We were holding placards, "Peace, we are not fighting, Peace, we are not fighting." We had agreed that from there we will
march to the police station and we will hand our referendum. And then from there we will march also to the government offices, and we will hand
in another referendum to the person who was the prime minister … What was he called? … these leaders of the Bantustans. And so we agreed
that after doing that we would just be going back to our schools and then we will march, march to our homes.
But then, as we got out of the stadium, the police knew that we were broken in as far as solidarity was concerned, because we were now marching
in broken fashion so to say. And then they came, they had called for some other police from Pietersburg, from Pretoria, it was the first time I
saw some police putting on the camouflage attire, and I saw some van, police vans, that had the protection, of the mesh wire so to say. And they
came with big dogs guns and they came driving steadily, and we were all shouting, "Let us not run away." But when you are in this type of organization
you will find that there are some students that don't know exactly what they are doing there, they are just following, under mob psychology. And these
are the first people that start running away, that start to get scared. I want to believe that, had we not run away, we would not have been hurt the
way we were, eventually. So when, we started running away, running away, running away, then everybody started running away. And, I for one, knew that
I was in a great danger if I were re-arrested, because the case … our case had just ended about two months ago. And we were given a suspended
acquittal, so that for the coming five years we must not be found doing anything that's related to that… Otherwise we will go to prison for
five years. I was with my accused number one friend and I told him that we will be in danger here, we better be safe. And then we ran, ran away from
the police. Fortunately we were not arrested, I think there were some few students that were arrested. Though they were acquitted, did not appear in
But then, when we ran away that particular day, I decided that I was no more going to go back home because I knew that they were going to follow
me at home, they knew my home very well. So I decided that I was going to hide somewhere far away from home. I went to a place about 40 km from home
and that was at my brother-in-law's home, and I hid myself there. Now, some of the students had hidden in different areas, some in the township around
Sibasa, some in the villages around.
Now Maanda went hiding somewhere in a village around, before you get to Thohojandou from Louis Trichardt. And he had a group of some few there …
students. Now, where I was hiding, I was alone. But, what we did was, we communicated, we told each other where we were all of us. Now, this brings
you to how Maanda left, eventually, and how I remained in the country. The night Maanda left with the group of some young people they brought a
message to my brother-in-law's job. Unfortunately I was not in in the afternoon, I had gone out in between, to be at some other place. And the message
didn't get me, the message that … they left the message that I should not sleep that night before I would get to where Maanda was [unclear]. But
I came back and I felt a bit tired and bored, and I said, well, it's a bit late now, let me see them in the morning. And the first thing in the morning
was to drive my brother-in-law's van, I went to the place where they were. And when I got there I found that they had left he previous night. It was
very painful to me. More painful, more so because there was no one ready to direct me where they had gone to. I think my brother-in-law would be
prepared to drive me, until I could have possibly found them, but there was no-one who wanted to divulge where they had gone to. And I want to believe
that [unclear] could have possibly asked, they didn't really know the route that the group was going to follow as they were going to cross the border.
Maanda has just told me now the place that they had gone to, that I didn't think they had gone to. But, had I known, I would have found them still in
the country there … and eventually … that is what happened.
I didn't go back to school that year, although the examinations were written eventually again. But I decided that I was no more going to go there,
because definitely I was going to be arrested. So I left school in Standard 9 then, 1979 [pause] … '77. And then '78 I looked for some work
around the area. I worked as a rep for a mill and '79, I was still working as a rep there. 1980 I decided that I should go back to school [laughs]
and then I went back to that very high school, Sibasa high school, asking the principal that I should be admitted. No he was a different principal,
the former principal was transferred to a different school. This new principal told me that he was not going to admit me at the school. And he knew
me very well, he said, "No, you are not going to be admitted at the school, because if we admit you in the school you are going to cause problems …
in the school." Now, I told him, I said, "Please, I am not going to cause any problems anymore. I just want to go to school, get educated." He told me
I was not going to be admitted, if I were admitted, he said, anything that would happen and disrupt the school program, I will be held responsible
thereof, even if I could not be present at the time of happening. He said, whether you are at home, or you have gone out of the country, wherever you
shall be, if there is any disruption of the school program, you are going to be the first person to be arrested. And so I said to him, "OK, let it
be like that, I'll admit it." He said, "No, you are not admitted." OK, I asked for a transfer, a letter of transfer. He said, "I'm not going to write
a letter of transfer for you."
So, he really wanted to kill my future, that man. What I did was, I followed the principal, the man who was the principal when the strikes took place,
went to the secondary school where he was and I told him my predicament. Number one, I didn't want to repeat Standard 9. I felt that I had done, I had
covered the syllabus of Standard 9. It was only that we did not write examinations. And I felt that I could try Standard 10. And then, number two, I
told him that I didn't have a letter of transfer, and I told him of the problem that I was facing in the school. He was an understanding man, he said,
"Come and do your work here." And I was admitted in the school, I did Standard 10 and I passed. That's 1977, 1976. Possibly you would be having some
areas that you would like to understand.
Do you remember when you first, how you first heard about what was happening in Soweto?
The media, the newspapers, were very good about informing us about what was happening there. We had a newspaper that was banned eventually, which was
called The World-it was a good paper which we used to read very much as students. So I would say that it offered us much information regarding what was
taking place here. And also the speakers that I have told you about. They would come nearly every second week or so. And we had a place at the missionary
station where we would meet. And they would feed us the information as to what was happening here and what we needed to do also, in turn. We had people
also in Venda, that were very, very good, some of them are still respected greatly today, who were elderly to us, and who would keep on informing us.
People such as Dean Farisani, people like Reverend Mashaba, who happens to be my elder brother, they were leaders of BPC there. Just to mention a few,
maybe I could tell you of people such as Mrs Ratshetanga … these three at least. I could count a number of them, some of them are still at home
there. But these were elderly, and they were having a more clear picture of what was taking place. So whenever we would meet, rub shoulders with them,
then we would end up being well informed, having much good information, and we would go back to our different schools and we would take the information
back to our schools.
What was the organization called at the school?
It was just a branch of the BPC. Of course, those were the days of SASO, but I don't remember SASO playing any active role in the schools during those
days in our schools. It was more BPC that played the significant role.
And your position within the school branch?]
I was the chairman of the branch.
What kind of information did the senior BPC members give you? Do you remember any of the stories?
Yes, generally speaking I remember it covered, just to make us aware of the injustices of the country. You see, it was an education, it was an
educational program, which would conscientize us, to make us aware of the ills that we were suffering under the apartheid rules, which would cover the
history, historical background of what the white regime, the apartheid regime did on arriving in South Africa, and also what they did to our fathers
who were migrant laborers, and what they did, the struggle against apartheid, also would be one-faced [?], and this would also include such things how
our political leaders started to fight the white people. We had one [arch-? unclear] leader, who was in the country, a cofounder of the PAC, Mr. Matsunje
[?] who has passed away about three, four years or five ago. And he was very much active also in organizing us. His son now is the chairman of the
regional branch in Soweto of the PAC. They would tell us what should we do, as a black person you have to stand for your rights, you have to know
that you are not inferior, to be confident of yourself, to believe that you are a person, there is something that you can contribute meaningfully and
equally to a white person's performance in the country. It was a conscientizing program, an educational program. We didn't cover much really about
violence. They wouldn't tell us such things. But they would tell us that it is our right to disrupt the program of the school, if we realized that
it is a program that was enhancing the thoughts of the oppressor.
Was this all new to you? Was it different from what you had thought until then?]
Like I told you at first, with me, in particular it wasn't so new. I remember that when I grew up in our family, as early as 1968-69, I would see
the police inundating our home, special branch, inundating our home, to an extent that I remember we had a road getting into my home, whereas there
was no vehicle in our home. The vehicles of the police, and this is no exaggeration, they would come, day in and day out. My brother, my elder brother
would be arrested, many, many days, so many times. They would take him into custody, release him, bring him back, go for cross-questioning, and
interrogation, bring him back, and all that. So, I at least grew with a certain degree of perception regarding the ills that were happening. We
had materials at home, books at home, that my brother would tell me, "You'd better read these books," and I would read such books.
Do you remember any of them?
Oh yes, I will remember books such as Roots, I read it through, at my very earliest [st]age. Some few other that I read, the pamphlets from
the organization, about the life of Mandela, his struggle, the Rivonia trial. I read those things before I went to my secondary school. So when I
went to my secondary school, I already had a clear vision of what was taking place. But, following your question, I should tell you that quite some
few students, not few, but maybe the majority of the students, that they didn't understand anything about the ills of apartheid. That they didn't
understand anything about the worthiness of the black man, that didn't have any confidence in themselves, that wouldn't be able to face a white
person and talk like we are talking, such things. The majority of the people wouldn't understand really. So, the problem of conscientization, it
was a good program, to make all students being aware of what was taking place.
Tell me more about your family, your parents… You said you had a fairly small family? Is that unusual?
Yes, very unusual. I don't know what really they contributed to this. I think, my origin, what they tell us in fairy tales [laughter], it's
across the Limpopo River. As you would know, most of the black people of course, they came from across the Limpopo River. I still can trace it up
to today to King [unclear] family in Zambia. I know all my grand- my ancestors, the tree of our family by name, the heads of the tree of my family
by names, which shows me that it might not have been so long that we have come down to South Africa. I can count about five back to the person who
left Zambia. Maybe this has been one of the contributing factors that our family, in our family, it's my direct family, and I have two uncles, I
have three aunts, then that's all, and then their children and their families of course. I was born in a peasant home, a very poor home indeed,
my father was illiterate, my mother only went as far as Standard 2 school, and when we grew up … maybe I should tell you that I am the fourth
born in the home, fourth and last, born in the home. Our eldest at home is a sister, and there followed two brothers before me. Then I was last.
I grew up in remote areas of the Northern Transvaal, and I regard it miraculous that I am where I am today, I even have managed to go to college.
Mainly I want to believe that it has been because of my mother. My mother held education very highly and she would force every child to go to
school. So once my elder brothers had seen the light at school, then they in turn would take it upon their shoulders that they should encourage
me to go to school. I grew up in a family that was Christian, only from 1961, and I want to believe that this has been, this contributed into my
view of life regarding violence. That I have ever affirmed that people don't need to, whereas we have got the right to struggle, we don't need to
engage ourselves in violence: taking out of life, destroying property. I became myself actively involved in Christianity in 1973. And maybe I
should have told you also that the religious organizations played a big role also in conscientizing the Northern Transvaal. When we got to secondary
school we founded the Student Christian Movement (SCM), actually operating and then in this organization again, we would teach and be taught that
apartheid was wrong. Man is the image of God, is created in the image of God. We would teach and be taught, preached unto about the rights, our
rights, of everyone. And eventually I remember that we came and organized an organization that was called BECO, Bold Evangelical Christian
Organization, which was an interdenominational organization. And this organization wasn't very familiar with police and the security because it
did much of conscientization also. To an extent that the leaders thereof, they were very much harassed, because they happened to, most of the
leaders they happened to be BPC members as well. So this has been another aspect, another area where I got strength of standing against the
injustices of the country. About my family, that's all that I can tell you.
… can you describe how active the girls were and what their role was?
Not in that particular event. But you are speaking generally? Girls were not so much actively engaged in all what we were doing. Actually I remember
the branch at the school there didn't have any girls in the committee thereof. Girls were just in the background. We never had a meaningful active
participation of schoolgirls in the struggle during those days. I have never given myself much time of looking at the reason why, but I would think
that this has been partly because of the cultural background [unclear] where women are women, they don't have to be active in anything. I want to
believe that we had some girls that sympathized and understood the conditions, but they wouldn't dare to just be out. As I said to you, that was the
only day whereby we saw girls, waiting, standing in solidarity with us, marching out of their hostels singing and they came and they joined with the
boys in the year that I was being arrested. And I think this should have signaled a clear message to the police that didn't expect that girls could
stand up and do such a thing.
And subsequently to that they were not involved anymore?
No, they were not. They were not. I don't remember a single girl who did. There could have been some, some girls in other areas maybe that would be
active, but not so much. You could think about this and understand it in this light that, in the whole group that eventually left the country, there
wasn't any girl, not a one that I think of … from the northern Transvaal. But with regard to places like, the place where we are in now, I know
that there were some girls that were actively engaged.
Maanda mentioned one girl who facilitated their escape.
OK, I know her. She wasn't with us then. You see what happened with this young girl is, I even don't remember what studies she was doing, and she
wasn't a friend to us so to say at that time, except that she had a connection with Botswana, because of her parents that were living in Botswana
at that time. So she knew the country very well. She, if I remember, she could have been post-secondary school … maybe she could have been
doing a teacher's training course or something of the sort. Yes, I would remember that there could have been some time, some few times, whereby
she was also, she was familiar with the place. The reason why I might not remember much about her [dealings] was that she didn't come from the
same vicinity as we were. It is only now that you mention her that I remember. She belonged to a Matshaba [check] family, and I should remember
her name … it is just escaping my mind. But I think she was just one extraordinary lady amongst many …
So the exception …
Yes, really, really, really. I don't know whether she had two or three friends that would [side? unclear] … you know, we knew that there
were some girls that would stand up. That if we were in an organization, they would stand up and talk against the [unclear], but they wouldn't really
go as much as maybe occupying the positions in sub-committees of organizations, no they wouldn't, they wouldn't. I don't remember what rank she filled
then. I don't remember whether she was a part of the executive committee of any suborganization, any locality. I don't remember that well.
What about in you own family, your sister and your mother-what kind of role did they play and what were their reactions?
Our sister left school at Standard 2 also, like my mother did, and she is in the different class, different category than our category. She was
born in 1938, and I don't remember her being at home when I grew up as a small boy. She isn't actively engaged at all, not at all. My mother …
understood the injustices. So did my father. But they had a problem. Whenever we would be harassed, we would be arrested, it would strike them very,
very painfully, so much that I remember my father talking to us many times. He would come to plead with us that we better not be, be actively engaged
in this thing, because he felt that it was a great embarrassment to him, in the locality. The whole country where I come from, the whole village …
our family was just one family that was known to be naughty so to say.
And my father, being an old person, born in 1908, he wouldn't love these things. But if we sat around the fire and we were talking about the injustices
of the oppressors he would tell us some practical stories of what happened to him when he was a migrant laborer on the farms of the Boers in the
western part of the country around Rustenburg. How he had some of his friends killed there, buried on the farm and that was the end of their life,
all those things. My father was a very good historian, he was not educated at all, he didn't know how to write his name, but he was a very good
historian, better than I am. He would come up with accurate dates of events [laughter]… That is still another mystery to me. I don't understand
how he managed to do all those things.
So he would tell us about the struggles, the wars between black people and white people, he would tell us about the First World War, such things,
though they were not related, directly, to the struggle in the country. I am saying that he was such a type of person, if we are seated together he
will tell us about the ills and the pains that they have suffered as black people, but he didn't want us to get involved, he didn't. And whenever we
would be arrested, he would, he would, at all times when we would be back, say, "But can't you think about leaving this thing." But [at the worst?]
that was the home.
Except for my other brother, the other elder brother, the one that I come immediately thereafter, he is a teacher by profession. He has not been
that much involved. He has … actually been … one time or another … he has been a part of the system. Not only as a teacher, but …
been very active in organizing the, whatever, rallies that were selling the ideas of the government, things of that sort. It created great tension,
which still exists today to a great extent…
… you see, what I've just told you now here, is very painful to me, very painful… Whenever I would face some, some persecutions, even after
1977, because the police wouldn't stop to chase after me and followed after me, I realized that at times that my brother was playing an active role…
You asked about my mother.
No, I didn't mean to interrupt you at all.
I think … now … the elder brother, now, the brother that I am talking about, he is in a problem now that the country is changing like this,
he is trying by all means that he must find acceptance from me and the eldest brother, of mine, that has been instrumental in my life. We accept him.
Is it difficult?
Very difficult. I think it has created a tension that will never, any time change, it will never be eradicated. Because we understood him to be feeding
the information to the oppressors at times. He would remark, give remarks, when he would be with his friends, about what was going to happen to us, and
surely we would see it happening. And we realized that he was just one with them.
Do you have any idea why?
I would think that … apart from the fact that he is a different personality, like … a different personality like we should expect in every
home. When he eventually became a teacher, it is simply that he minded so much about his own security, the work security, and he felt that it would
be good if he could as possibly as he can, disassociate himself from us by way of a lifestyle, and also by way of propagation to whoever we should
know, that he is not one with us and therefore he should, whenever [we go and see him? unclear] because, I should tell you, that it's not,
it's not very safe to tell anyone in Venda that you are associated with a Mashaba. It's not very safe, maybe now, but because of the history,
because of what was happening then. Saying that you were associated with a Mashaba at one time, was tantamount to saying that you are a terrorist.
So I think that he tried to care so much for his own security that he needed to make it clear to the authorities that he was a different person,
a different personality from his elder brother and from me. And I think this is why he engaged in such practices.
But like I say, things have changed now, and he's just an unfortunate person. We try to give him the warmth that we can, as much as we can, as
much possible as we can, but … that tension remains. So I would think that, forever really, it has divided our home. It has divided our home,
yes. You would find for instance his children singing slogans of the Afrikaners, singing slogans of the Homeland regime, reciting slogans. He
would teach his children to do likewise. And I remember 1985, when I decided to establish my home, my own stand, separately from where he was.
Though at first we had thought that we would stay together, just, I would be having my side adjacent to his, but eventually I decided that I must
be independent. Go a little distance out of the way. Because, partly because I would find my children also starting to use … that he would
indoctrinate my children also on these things. Then I eventually decided, no let me get out. Then I should give an education that I think is right
for my own children.
My mother has just been that type of a person. She would understand very much the struggle, and she would encourage us to go ahead. She was a
devout Christian. She would pray for us, very much, even in our struggle. She would give refuge to others politically … those that were engaged
in politics, that would run to my home for refuge, if they were being sought after in their villages far away, then they would think at least of
coming to our home. And I remember that at one time we had three gentlemen hidden at our home, in our home, and eventually the police came, and
they had heard that they were there. My mother told them, "They are not there." And she had locked them in one of the rooms, and [laughs] …
and the police eventually left. They never thought that an old lady such as my mother could be engaged in such things, and so they trusted her
so much that, when she told them they were not there, they said OK, they believed it. [laughs]
Source: Sam Mashaba, interview by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, tape recording, Johannesburg, September 1993.