“I Saw a Nightmare…”
Doing Violence to Memory: The Soweto Uprising, June 16, 1976
by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick
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Testimony before the Cillié Commission: Sophie Topsie Tema

Reporter, Weekend World and The World; a resident of Soweto; a Pedi September 1976


Mr. Hlungwani:
Now, on the 15th June you were alerted by an unknown caller through the phone about demonstrations to be held by students the following day.

Ms. Tema:
That is correct.

Hlungwani:
Now, before you go any further, how in fact did you get the information and how did you think? Did you think it was a scholar because further on you will say it was a man who spoke in a deep masculine voice and I would like to know, did he seem to be a student?

Tema:
It did not seem to me that it was a student, it seemed to me that it was some male who was informed about the demonstration.

[…]

This man asked me not to ask him to identify himself. All he said to me is that I just want you to know that the students are going to hold a demonstration tomorrow.

Tema:
Well, he told me that the demonstrations was going to be in sympathy of the students who had gone on strike, who had not been going to classes because they were against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in certain subjects.

Well, he said it was going to be the Naledi High, Morris Isaacson and the Phefeni Junior Secondary—I am sorry, not Phefeni Junior, sorry, Orlando West High.

Hlungwani:
Now, you could infer that the three schools were the organisers of the demonstrations?

Tema:
Yes, I would.

Hlungwani:
Which were the schools, as far as you know, who were affected by the use of Afrikaans?

Tema:
If I remember well, we had the Thula Sizwe Higher Primary School, we had Emtonyeni Higher Primary School, we had the Phefeni Junior Secondary school, and we had the Belle Higher Primary School. Those are the schools that had gone on strike.

[…]

Well, according to the information we have got, the high schools were not affected.

Hlungwani:
nd then the following day or the following morning at about 7 o'clock where did you go to?

Tema:
I was picked up at my home by our driver, Stanley Mtshali, and we proceeded to pick up our photographer, Dan Tleketle. Thereafter we proceeded to the Naledi High School, but it seemed that we had gone to the Naledi High School you know a time that was really inappropriate, we got there too early.

[…]

Hlungwani:
Why did you specifically go to Naledi High School? Did your informant tell you that the march or the demonstration would start from Naledi High School?

Tema:
Well, it was just in my opinion that it was going to start from Naledi because Naledi is at the furthest end. So in my opinion I thought they would start at Naledi, proceed to Morris Isaacson and then to the Orlando West High School.

Hlungwani:
Did you expect or suspect any violence from the demonstration?

Tema:
No, I did not.

Hlungwani:
Do you remember that there was an incident on the 8th May, prior to this incident, with the police at Naledi High School?

Tema:
I heard about that.

Hlungwani:
That the police care was burned down and there was sort of a stone throwing too early on May the 8th.

Tema:
I heard about that.

Hlungwani:
You heard about that. Now, didn't you think that there would be violence on the grounds of that, I mean, knowing that there was once some stone throwing at Naledi High School? Didn't you think that there would be some violence erupting from the demonstration?

Tema:
No, I did not think that there was going to be violence. I thought as long as the police could keep out of it, there definitely would not have been violence.

[…]

When I got to this store [Sizwe Store in Mofolo], it was at this point where we saw a group of students standing outside a school yard in a street. They were waving placards and they were singing.

I think there were about 200 at that time.

[ … ]

Hlungwani:
How were they—or were they peaceful or was there any violence then?

Tema:
Not what I saw.

It was about 8:30.

Hlungwani:
We have got evidence here that a certain Mr J. B. Smit of Klipspruit Bantu Administration Board was stoned just before 8 a.m. by a group of students and it was at Naledi Beer Hall, which might mean that it was these students from Naledi who might have stoned him.

Tema:
I would not say. As I say I never went near the beer hall on that particular day, so I will not know.

[ … ]

Whilst at Sizwe Store another team of reporters from the World which consisted of Sam Nzima who was the photographer, Collin Nxumalo a reporter, Thami Mazai a reporter, and Willy Bokala came in a second car, but I kept to our team which consisted of Stanley Mtshali, myself and Dan Tleketle.

[ … ]

The students began to—no, I am sorry—before the students started to move, they were joined by another group of students and it looked like it was students from the Morris Isaacson High School. There were a big crowd of students now, they had increased in number and the students were now moving through Mofolo towards Dube and as the students were marching through Mofolo towards Dube they were joined by other students from other schools along the road.

[ … ]

As they were moving, they were joined by other schools along the road towards Dube. Kids from other schools came in and joined them and they increased in number as they were going on. At one stage I marched along with them because I had to leave the car to Dan because Dan wanted to take some picture that he thought was worth while.

Hlungwani:
From which point did you then join them of foot?

Tema:
From the vocational training centre.

[ … ]

I marched with them up to Phefeni where I again joined Dan and Stanley in our Volkswagen.

[…]

Yes, they had placards with them.

[ … ]

I remember I read one which said "We are being fed the crumbs of ignorance with Afrikaans as a dangerous spoon."

And others read: "Away with Afrikaans," others read "We do not want Afrikaans in Azania", others read "Afrikaans is a language of the oppressors." Those are the few I can remember.

Hlungwani:
What do you understand by Azania?

Tema:
Well, I thought Azania means Africa, that is what I thought.

[ … ]

I joined my colleagues in our little Beetle and we drove about 20 yards and we decided to stop, waiting for the students who came marching from behind us.

No, excuse me, we left the group behind in our car and we travelled ahead of them.

That is the entire group of students.

Hlungwani:
The entire group.

Tema:
Yes, so we drove ahead of them and to the point where we were, to the other point where we had gone we drove about 40 yards and we decided to stop and wait for the students who were coming from behind us.

… At a later stage the students arrived on the scene and they wee addressed by a male student. They were stopped there and one of the male students spoke to them.

I got out of our car and I went to listen to what he was saying to them.

He said to them, I am not quoting word for word, but I can still remember what he said. He said: brothers and sisters, I appeal to you to keep calm and cool. We have just received a report that the police are coming. Please do not taunt them, do not do anything to them, just be cool and calm because we do not know what they are after. We are not fighting.

Hlungwani:
Do you know him?

Tema:
Well, I know him.

Hlungwani:
I would not force you to say his name if you do not prefer to tell us the name, but do you know the student?

Tema:
Yes, I know him.

Hlungwani:
He is a student in one of the high schools?

Tema:
Yes.

I did not know then that he was their leader, I came to know about that later on.

After he had addressed them, they moved down the street. We were sort of travelling ahead of them. They moved up to the Orlando West Secondary School.

[ … ]

When they got to the scene, they were met by students from other schools now who had all waited for them outside the Orlando West High School. There were thousands of students then.

As they were standing there, my colleagues Dan and Stanley Mtshali drove in our car just a little lower down below the Orlando West High School where we saw police vehicles, some in private cars, some in these big vans called Kwela-Kwela's and some in smaller ones.Well, the Kwela-Kwela is the big police truck.

Hlungwani:
It is not the one called "Hippo"?

Tema:
No, not the one called a "Hippo".

Hlungwani:
And actually how many cars or vehicles?

Tema:
Well, I counted about—there were more than ten.

Hlungwani:
Was it the first group of police that came there?

Tema:
Yes, that was the first lot of police.

Hlungwani:
Could you perhaps estimate the number of the police you saw being conveyed in this vehicle?

Tema:
It could have been plus-minus 30.

Hlungwani:
At least how many Whites and how many Blacks?

Tema:
Well, that I cannot tell, but they were a mixture, with White and Black.

[…]

Well, the Whites appeared to be more than the Blacks.

We met the police and they were driving up the main road. They then took a turn in a street above the Orlando West High school to turn down and face the students directly. The students were facing west and the police were now facing east. I and Stanley—we did not have Dan in our car then, we picked him [up] at some corner.

[…]

Yes, he was our photographer.

We picked him up at some corner. Drove with him towards the scene where the students and the police were. We took our line behind the police on the right-hand side, they were on the left and we took our line on the right-hand side.

Hlungwani:
Who were the first to arrive on the scene? The police or yourselves?

Tema:
The police.

Hlungwani:
When you got to that scene, how were the police standing?

Tema:
Well, they had got out of their vehicles and some of them were standing next to the vehicles and others started moving towards the students.

Hlungwani:
Did they seem to be watching the movement of the students or did it appear that they were going to act against the students?

Tema:
At that time it did not look like they were going to act against the students. In my opinion I thought that they were first going to talk to the students to find out from them what they want there or rather to disperse them.

[ … ]

I was still in our car then. Later I decided to get out.

When I saw that all the police were now marching towards the students, I got out of our car, so did Stanley, so did Dan.

Our photographer moved a little lower down because there was a house just near the Orlando West High School, it had a wall, a brick wall and he moved to that house and climbed onto that brick wall so as to get a better view for his pictures.

Hlungwani:
The whole purpose of taking a photographer to this scene was to have pictures of what was happening.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Now just proceed. You are behind the police and the police are marching towards the students and then you got out of the car and then?

Tema:
I followed them.
Chairman Cillié:
The police?—Yes, I followed the police.

Hlungwani:
And then?

Tema:
I did not go too close to them. I think it was a distance between Your Lordship and myself.

Hlungwani:
You could clearly see the students and the police from where you stood?

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
And you could see every movement of the students?

Tema:
Yes.

[ … ]

As the students were standing there, I expected that the police would rather warn them to disperse.

Hlungwani:
You say the students were just standing.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Were they standing still or were they singing or dancing?

Tema:
Well, some of them were singing this “Morena …” (Bantu words).

Hlungwani:
What does that mean?

Tema:
God save our Nation. They were singing it in Sotho.

Others were whistling and screaming to the police, "Go away, we do not want the police here" and others were waving their placards.

At that time I saw one of the police throwing what looked like teargas into the midst of the students, because thereafter a big cloud of smoke came off from what he had thrown into the midst of the students.

Hlungwani:
Just before you proceed. You said students were screaming, some dancing?

Tema:
No, sorry, none were dancing.

Hlungwani:
They were just screaming and shouting and …

Tema:
Waving their placards, others whistling.

Hlungwani:
Yes, there was quite a noise there?

Tema:
Yes, there was quite a noise.

Hlungwani:
You spoke about warning. Could you hear any warning there, I mean amidst that noise?

Tema:
In a crowd like that I would have expected the police, if they wanted to warn the students, to use something like a loudspeaker, which I did not see.

Hlungwani:
They did not have any?

Tema:
I would not say they did not have, but I did not see them using it.

Then one of them threw what seemed like teargas into the midst of the students.

More teargas followed, more teargas was thrown into the midst of the students at least.

Hlungwani:
How many times …

Tema:
About twice.

[ … ]

Hlungwani:
Was it from a Black member of the police or from a White member of the police?

Tema:
It was a White member of the police, but he did not have a uniform on, he was in mufti.

Hlungwani:
After the teargas, what did the children do?

Tema:
After the teargas some of the students now started getting confused and were running helter skelter. Then I saw two or three in the front row who had stones and they hurled them at the police.

Hlungwani:
That was now after the teargas?

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Had been thrown at them.

Tema:
Yes.

Some of them threw stones at the police. Then one of the police who was on the extreme right, he was in uniform and it was a White policeman, pulled out a revolver and he pointed it to the students who were more towards the right.

[ … ]

No, they [the students] were in a block in the street, they did not stand in a circle, they were in a block.

Hlungwani:
And then you saw a White policeman draw a revolver. What did he do?

Tema:
He aimed at the students. At that time Stanley, our driver, screamed and said: Look at him, he is shooting at the kids.

Hlungwani:
That was now the first time that you saw the shooting.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Now, I would like to put to you that we have evidence here that the police only shot after the student attacked them with stones.

Tema:
The police first threw teargas into the midst of the students. Then some of the students in the front line hurled stones at them in retaliation, it was then that this policeman pulled out the revolver, aimed at the students and fired. It was after this policeman had fired and more shots followed, that most of the students attacked the police. I remember at one stage I had to run, I had to scream to Stanley and we had to run into our Volkswagen Beetle to get away from that scene because we could see it was now getting dangerous.

Hlungwani:
Now after the first shot did more shots follow from the side of the police?

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Did you see anybody being hit by one of the stones or more of the stones from the students?

Tema:
Well, I saw some of the police cars had their windscreens shattered.

Hlungwani:
I mean someone who actually was hit, a policeman who was hit by one of the stones or more [of] the stones. Did you see any?

Tema:
I did not see any policeman hit by stones. Because they started running like I started running.

Hlungwani:
We have evidence here that there were also dogs. Did you see any dogs there?

Tema:
I only saw a dead dog after that. Before that I saw a dog in one of the vans as the police were moving up.

Cillié:
You saw a dog in?

Tema:
In one of the vans as the police were moving up to the scene, I saw a dog or two in one of the vans but I did not see them letting the dogs loose in the midst of the students.

Hlungwani:
Did you see it dead later?

Tema:
Yes, I saw one dead later one, a black dog.

Hlungwani:
Did you see it being killed?

Tema:
No, I did not.

As we were trying to get away from the scene, me and Stanley, Dan was not with us the, we met four students carrying a fifth. The fifth was hit on the left chest and they were running with him towards the Phefeni Clinic, which was not very far away from the scene.

[…]

Four students carrying a 5th student towards the clinic. He was bleeding from his left chest.

[…]

Yes, from his left chest. They were rushing him to the Phefeni Clinic.

Hlungwani:
Where were you at the time?

Tema:
We had now taken position in another street because now the students were all over the place. Now we had taken position in the next street, not the street where the police were. [does not know the name]

Hlungwani:
Now, you took up position in one of the streets there. At that time were they a group of students or were they just scattered?

Tema:
They were scattered now.

Hlungwani:
I put it to you that we have evidence here that there was teargas used and there were also baton used before the shooting.

Tema:
I deny that. There was teargas but not batons.

Hlungwani:
Do you say it is impossible that that might have been used before you got to the scene?

Tema:
I was there from the very time when this thing erupted at Phefeni.

Hlungwani:
Then proceed.

Tema:
While we were in the next [street] with Stanley, a boy came to us. He did not seem to be a student because he did not have a uniform on, and he asked us for a lift. I could see that this boy was limping. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that he had been shot in his leg. He was bleeding from behind his right thigh.

Hlungwani:
You did not know the boy?

Tema:
No, I did not know him.

Hlungwani:
Now why do you say he seemed to be not a student?

Tema:
Because he was not dressed in uniform, he did not have uniform on.

Hlungwani:
Is it compulsory in Soweto that pupils must have their uniforms every day?

Tema:
Yes, it is compulsory.

Hlungwani:
So we can accept that he is not a student?

Tema:
Yes, to my knowledge he was not, from the way I could see him.

Hlungwani:
Did he appear to have been one of the students demonstrating there? I mean one of the group?

Tema:
No, I actually asked him if he was with the students. He said no, I had gone to my aunt's place and I was trying to make my way home.

Tema:
We took him to the Phefeni Clinic, I and Stanley.

[…]

We dropped him off at the door and we drove right back to the scene.

There was still shooting at that time. Students were running helter-skelter, some throwing stones, there was big confusion there and as we were driving down the street that goes from the clinic towards the scene, I saw our photographer Sam Nzima and I asked Stanley to drive towards Sam. As we were driving towards Sam, because we wanted to pick up Sam and put him into our car because we could see that the situation was dangerous, we saw a boy who had an overall on, carrying another boy in his arms and a girl next to him. She was crying, weeping, and they were coming towards us. I then asked Stanley to stop the car and I ordered these people to get into our car so that we could rush him to the clinic. Stanley, the girl and the injured boy and the one who was carrying the injured boy, went to the clinic. I followed them on foot to the clinic, which was not very far. When I got there, the doctors had tried to examine the boy, but they told us that he was dead already.

Hlungwani:
When the doctor said that the boy was dead, was the previous witness, one of these people who brought the deceased …

Tema:
The little girl.

Hlungwani:
Was she present when the doctor certified the young lad dead?

Tema:
Yes, she was present, she was crying.

Hlungwani:
She could not have heard that, because …

Tema:
It is possible she could have heard that, I will tell you why, because before they went into our car, the boy who was carrying this other one, he said in Zulu that this boy is already dead and this girl kept on calling his name, she kept on calling him, Zolile, Zolile, as she was crying and weeping.

Hlungwani:
Zolile is then a Xhosa name for the deceased?

Tema:
Yes.

[ … ]

Hlungwani:
Let us go back a little bit to the demonstration. Didn't you see some older people or adults or people who looked like adults, dancing in front of these children, making some signs?

Tema:
It was during the week…
Hlungwani [intervenes]:
As if these people were inciting the group to …

Tema:
It was during the week and most adults were at work. So there were no adults in the midst of those students. From what I could see there were only students and no adults.

Hlungwani:
I would like to know from you whether you still find students in the high school, those doing matric, with the ages ranging from 21 to 25.

Tema:
Very, very few.

Hlungwani:
Very, very few. You do not have actually about 26 year olds doing matric?

Tema:
No.

Hlungwani:
Let us just go a little back to the question of Afrikaans. Do you know the teacher training college known as Wilberforce?

Tema:
I do.

Hlungwani:
Is it for a specific section of the Blacks? Is it meant for a specific ethnic group?

Tema:
No, not what I know of.

Hlungwani:
That is the teachers training college at Evaton, isn't it?

Tema:
Yes, it is at Evaton.

Hlungwani:
Do you have most of the teachers in Soweto coming from this college?

Tema:
Yes, and other colleges.

Hlungwani:
And other colleges. Do you know what the medium of instruction in this teachers training college is?

Tema:
It is English.

Hlungwani:
All the subjects?

Tema:
Yes, all the subjects.

Hlungwani:
Including Methods?

Tema:
Methods and Organisation.

Hlungwani:
Now how are they in Afrikaans if they were to be given class in Afrikaans to teach? Would they perhaps teach Afrikaans as easily as a man perhaps who got his teacher's certificate from Emmerentia and Geldenhuys and the other Afrikaans training institutions?

Tema:
I will tell you, Afrikaans is a very difficult language. If I may mention, I am from an Afrikaans medium school at the Stoffberg Gedenkskool and Afrikaans is no easy language for any Black to learn. I learned Afrikaans because we are Afrikaans-speaking at home and I was prepared to go to an Afrikaans medium school, but I would never send my child to an Afrikaans medium school because I know my child is going to encounter great difficulty to master this language.

Hlungwani:
Well, I do not know whether—as an Afrikaans-speaking at home, would you say Afrikaans is a difficult language?

Tema:
I say so.

Hlungwani:
Is it now the view taken by the general public in Soweto?

Tema:
Yes, it is.

Hlungwani:
But you do have teachers who come from Afrikaans medium teacher training schools?

Tema:
Yes, very few. You find most of them in the Free State.

Hlungwani:
You find?

Tema:
Most of them in the Free State. Those who go to Stoffberg Gedenkskool are from the Free State.

Hlungwani:
And the Transvaal schools most of them are closed down, such as Pfesa.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
And …

Tema:
Emmerentia, Geldenhuys.

Hlungwani:
Emmerentia and Geldenhuys.

Tema:
Even Stoffberg has moved to Witsieshoek.

Hlungwani:
Could you say perhaps there is a scarcity of teachers who can teach through the medium of Afrikaans?

Tema:
Definitely.

Hlungwani:
Most of the teachers are products of the Transvaal Education Department.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
And those, some of them never had Afrikaans even as a subject at school.

Tema:
Exactly so.

Hlungwani:
Have you got children at school?

Tema:
I have.

Hlungwani:
In the primary school?

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Now in the White areas you still have all subjects taught in the medium of vernacular in the primary school.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
That is now up to standard 5?

Tema:
Up to standard 4.

Hlungwani:
Up to standard 4?

Tema:
Yes, in the vernacular.

Hlungwani:
It is now—this is the new system where standard 5 is now in the secondary division.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
But before that there was standard 6.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
And in the White areas the primary school students had vernacular as medium of instruction from sub-standard A to standard 6.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
They wrote also public examinations through their mother tongue.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Now, if the medium of instruction where it was said they must learn in Afrikaans some of the subjects, was it applied only in the secondary or junior secondary schools or in the high primary schools?

Tema:
It started from standard 5 in the higher primary schools which now falls under the high school category, this is from standard 5. Our students had to learn mathematics and social studies in the medium of Afrikaans.

Hlungwani:
Perhaps you might help me here. In Soweto and most of the urban areas, the young people, whether students or non-students, they use what we call "tsotsi taal."

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Now mainly "tsotsi taal" is Afrikaans, isn't it, only mixed with some other Zulu or …

Tema:
Sotho, yes.

Hlungwani:
Sotho and everything.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Students also use that language, isn't it?

Tema:
Yes, when students talk to each other generally in the streets, they use that language.

Hlungwani:
Am I right, they use that language right up to the university, I mean outside?

Tema:
Yes, outside they do.

Hlungwani:
They use that. You find that the word order and the sentence construction most of it is in Afrikaans, isn't it?

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
So how could Afrikaans be difficult then?

Tema:
If you listen to the "tsotsi taal" it is very difficult for anybody to understand that language, but you do get the Afrikaans words—you know, you get the Afrikaans wording, but then as I say it is a conglomeration of Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, and some words that you just do not know where they got them from and that makes up the lingo of the "tsotsi taal."

Hlungwani:
Some of them do not even know their mother tongue.

Tema:
Exactly so, because they only speak in "tsotsi taal."

Hlungwani:
Let me deviate from that and we would like to get some of your opinions as a parent and not as a reporter.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Now, do you sometimes—are you in regular contact with the students, high school and university students?

Tema:
I would not say regular contact but I have some contact with them.

Hlungwani:
Are you quite used or do you usually hear the expressions they use?

Tema:
Yes, I do.

Hlungwani:
Some slogans.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Some expressions.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
Do you always hear students speaking about a system?

Tema:
Yes, I have often heard them talking about a system.

Hlungwani:
What is the meaning of the system?

Tema:
Well, according to the students, the system are the police and the people who work for the government as informers, they call them people of the system.

Hlungwani:
What about collaborators then?

Tema:
Well, according to them they believe that the collaborators are organisations like the U.B.C. [?]; they believe that those are the people who work for the system, so they are collaborating with the system.

Hlungwani:
According to you, how you actually hear them speak, are they perhaps against the police or what? When they call them collaborators and those working within the system?

Tema:
I would say …
Hlungwani [intervenes]:
What you hear from them and not you own ideas, but what you gather from them.

Tema:
Well, their attitude is that they are not friendly with the police, they and the police are no friends, because they believe that the police have adopted an attitude towards them which they cannot accept.

Hlungwani:
Could you perhaps elaborate on the attitude, what attitude is that?

Tema:
Well, they believe that the police always have a hostile attitude. In fact those that I have spoken to believe that the police are not a very friendly type of people, they believe that they are hostile towards them.

Hlungwani:
Would I be correct to say that they associate this attitude with Afrikaans?

Tema:
Yes, you will be correct, that is what it is. They have often said it.

Hlungwani:
Which means that they do not detest Afrikaans because it is difficult, but it is just because they detest the person who uses force in that language.

Tema:
I would say so.

Hlungwani:
Now, I see even the pictures her during the demonstration, I see people putting up a certain sign, they call it "Black Power." Do you sometimes hear from them what that thing is?

Tema:
Well I tried to find out from them what that Black Power meant, until some of them explained to me that we have been made aware of our blackness and we have been made to accept our blackness and we have accepted it and now that we are proud of the fact that we are black, we believe that we should have the power.

Hlungwani:
Now you say that they were made to accept it, made by whom?

Tema:
Well, I would say by government policy, separate development.

Hlungwani:
That is how they were told that they must be conscious of themselves.

Tema:
Exactly.

Hlungwani:
And that they must be proud. For example, you as a Pedi, you must be proud that you are a Pedi.

Tema:
And I must know about my homeland. [the government's chickens come home to roost]

Hlungwani:
And that you have got to preserve your identity and your colour.

Tema:
Yes.

Hlungwani:
… But why did the students—I wonder, would you say that the students were responsible for burning the buildings and even as far as looting businesses?

Tema:
No, I would not say it was the students. On this particular day bottle stores were broken into, bottle stores were looted and in a situation like that one could expect the tsotsi element to make full use of an opportunity like this and this is exactly what they did.

Hlungwani:
Were the students still active at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, that day, the 16th?

Tema:
At 3 I was still at Phefeni. I went back later after writing my report, I went back just to view the situation in Phefeni and most of the students were now walking back to their homes. You know, some of them were from as far as Naledi.

Hlungwani:
When did the tsotsi element take over?

Tema:
Well, after 3 o'clock the tsotsi element started to take over.

Hlungwani:
You were in Soweto that evening, isn't it?

Tema:
I was.

Hlungwani:
You are aware of the intensity of the demonstration or the riots as it went along the whole day. What would you think the effect of liquor was on the intensity of the demonstration?

Tema:
Well, on the 16th June, which was the Wednesday, there was not much consuming of liquor, unlike on Thursday, the 17th, when the tsotsis had now really gone full force into the whole issue.

On the 17th the tsotsis were now acting on their own, the students were not in it any longer.

Cillié:
When you had this phone call, you could form no impression as to whether this was a person who wanted to warn you what was going to happen or wanted to tell you to go and cover it for your newspaper?

Tema:
Well, in my opinion … this person wanted me to go and cover this for my newspaper.

Cillié:
Had you written about the previous incident for example on the 8th?

Tema:
No.

Cillié:
Had you written about any of the strikes the students has had and refusal to go to classes?

Tema:
I had.

Cillié:
Can you tell me exactly what this man said to you as far as it is possible, I do not want his exact words.

Tema:
Yes. Well, all he said, somebody first got the call for me and came and called me to say that there was somebody on my telephone who would like to speak to me. I went to the telephone and this person said to me: Is that Sophie? I said yes. He said to me: I just wanted to tell you that tomorrow the students will be demonstrating. I wanted to know from him why. He said: They will be demonstrating in sympathy for those who had gone on strike because they did not want Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools. Then I asked from him which schools are going to take part in the demonstration. He told me that it was going to be Naledi, Morris Isaacson and Orlando West.

Cillié:
I do not know what your report was like, I haven't got that before me, but in your statement which you sent in, you said that the told you that the students were to hold a demonstration the following day against the use of Afrikaaans as a medium of instruction in certain subjects.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
It is not a question of being in sympathy, it was a question of coming out against this, students were demonstrating against the teaching of the subject.

Tema:
Well, I think why he used the words in sympathy was because these schools were not affected by the medium of instruction.
[ … ]

Cillié:
Why didn't you then say in sympathy in your statement?

Tema:
I thought I had used the word in sympathy.

Cillié:
I do not know what you said in the article. I do not know whether the article is available here, but in your statement you did not say that. You know of course it was raised in parliament almost on the very day.

Tema:
I think I said so in my statement here. I say: the caller who refused to give me his name, but spoke in a deep masculine voice, told me that the students who were to face the demonstration, were not particularly affected by the use of Afrikaans, but were going to do so in sympathy with those who had been affected.

Cillié:
Yes, you are quite right, it does appear later in your article, quite right. First of all it is not stated like that, but then afterwards it appears. It is quite correct, that is what appears. He gave you the names of the school too.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
That is Naledi, Morris Isaacson and Orlando West. Did you know that they could not demonstrate unless they had permission to do so?

Tema:
I knew that but I thought that they had probably obtained permission to demonstrate.

Cillié:
You thought they had obtained permission but then, of course there was no reason why this man should be secretive about it, because then there would be nothing wrong with it.

Tema:
Well, I cannot tell why he was secretive about it.

Cillié:
Because then he could tell you it was going to happen because they had permission and everything would be in order.

Tema:
I agree with you.

Cillié:
Tell me, why do you say you thought nothing would happen unless the police were there?

Tema:
I believe on this particular day the children only had their placards and from the way I had seen them marching, they did not show any signs of hostility then and I believe had it not been for the police who threw teargas into the midst of the students, I do not think any violence would have erupted.

Cillié:
Well, would it surprise you to know that there is evidence that by that time one man had already been killed?

Tema:
Not what I knew of. It could have happened. As I say, I did not go back to Naledi on the second occasion.

Cillié:
Am I correct that there is the information?
Dr. Yutar:
That is so.

Cillié:
That by that time somebody had already been killed.
Yutar:
Yes.

Cillié:
Did you know that?

Tema:
No, not that I knew of.

Cillié:
What time did you see the shooting?

Tema:
It was round about 10–10:30 when the shooting took place.

Cillié:
Do you know that, I think this was a Mr. Esterhuizen who had then already been killed.

Tema:
If I may ask Your Lordship where was he killed?

Cillié:
Somewhere in the area.

Tema:
Near Phefeni?

Cillié:
I think so, but I am not quite certain, but in that area roughly. Close by four women in a motor car had been attacked. Do you know that?

Tema:
Four women, no, I do not know anything about that.

Cillié:
Do you know that there was evidence that at about 8 o'clock the position was that morning, the position was such that police patrols were sent out to see whether there was trouble.

Tema:
Not what I saw. As I said I told Your Lordship that I was at Naledi at about 7:20 and when I realised that nothing had happened, I went back to my office to make a report to our news editor and when I came back to the scene again it was about 8:30.

Cillié:
No, I am talking about the shooting which you say was about …

Tema:
No, it did not happen as early as all that.

Cillié:
About 10 o'clock you say.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
At 8 o'clock there was a report to the police that a group of students at Naledi beer hall had thrown stones at a particular Mr. Smit and had also assaulted him. Now that was very close, wasn't it, to the scene?

Tema:
I think I also said to Your Lordship I never went near Naledi beer hall on that particular day.

Cillié:
I know you did not, but you have just made a statement that the shooting was before there had been any—rather the throwing of the teargas was before there had been any violence. All I am trying to put to you is that there is evidence of violence before that time.

Tema:
Well, not what I know of.

Cillié:
Well, do you doubt that that could be correct?

Tema:
No, I would not doubt it.

Cillié:
Now the question of the Black Power situation, I did not quite follow as to whom you said had made the Black people conscious of their blackness.

Tema:
Well, as I said, I spoke to the students because I wanted to know what is this Black Power all about and then most of them explained that it was because of government policy, separate development, that had made them conscious of the fact that they are Black, made them proud of the fact that they are Black and they believe that as a Black people they were entitled to have a power and this is where this Black Power came from.

Cillié:
As a newspaper reporter, had you ever seen or heard of reports of Black consciousness overseas?

Tema:
Yes, I read about that in newspapers.

Cillié:
And that in fact it is not something—the awareness is by the Blacks themselves who say you must be aware of your blackness, you must be proud of your blackness. Isn't that so? Isn't that how it develops?

Tema:
I would not say so. I think they have a reason for that like they had explained, because I wanted to know specifically from them how did they come to talk about this.

Cillié:
Do you know of the sign or signal that they give, the Black Power sign?

Tema:
That is the sign of the clenched fist.

Cillié:
That is right. Now did you see that at any stage that day?

Tema:
Yes, I saw that sign.

Cillié:
We have evidence that with the group of people of whom you are speaking now, it was quite common to see the sign being given.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
Practically everyone gave it. Is that right?

Tema:
Well, some of the people—probably some of them just gave the sign, they did not know what it meant.

Cillié:
That is not the point. Do you think that most of them gave the sign?

Tema:
I would not say most of them. I did not see my mother giving that sign.

Cillié:
You did not see?

Tema:
My mother giving that sign, nor did I see any of my family giving that sign, so I would not say most of the people. Very few I saw gave that sign.

Cillié:
Yes, I was not speaking of that, I was speaking of the people in the streets on that particular morning.

Tema:
I would say it would be the younger generation who would give that sign, not the older generation.

Cillié:
I am dealing with the students in the street on that particular morning.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
Did they give the sign?

Tema:
Yes, they did.

Cillié:
In fact did you know that there would appear to have been a sign given or that sign given by people who wanted to pass through the crowds with their cars?

Tema:
Yes, we were involved and we were caught up in the situation like that at one stage during that day.

Cillié:
And how did you get through? Did you have to give the Black Power sign to get through?

Tema:
Yes, we had to give the Black Power sign, but later in the evening it was not a passport to freedom anywhere.

Cillié:
Yes, I know, but I am speaking of that morning.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
You see, we had the evidence this morning that a particular car, wanting to move through, were asked to give the sign and if they did not give the sign then at that stage there was some argument as to whether they should do something to the car or whether they should still let them through.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
But in any event, they virtually compelled them to give the sign.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
Now do you think that, form your experience, that anything in connection with any movement, any Black Power movement could have been responsible for these riots?

Tema:
No, I do not think so.

Cillié:
Would you prefer to divide this thing up into demonstrations and riots? Do you think that is a good division and that you talk of the demonstrations as far as the students are concerned, and the riots as far as the tsotsis are concerned?

Tema:
I would not say that. I do not think I would divide them in any way, but as I say later we had to call them riots because now the tsotsi element had actually got into the whole situation. They had made use of the opportunity.

From what I had seen it was an ordinary peaceful demonstration and developed into a riot.

Cillié:
There was a development at the stage—whether you are correct or whether the police are correct or some other evidence is correct, in the end the situation at the place where you were, where the shooting took place, amounted to a violent upheaval.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
Virtually a riot it amounted to.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
The throwing of stones, the shooting and so forth.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
There at that stage there was nothing which—there was no influence of a tsotsi element. Is that correct?

Tema:
Correct.

Cillié:
Is it correct too that you are firmly of the opinion that if the police had not interfered in any way, there would have been no riots?

Tema:
That is my firm opinion.

Cillié:
I do not wish to lead you into a position of having to say that something is right or something is wrong, but if the police are correct, that the demonstration by so many people had already amounted to or rather, had already been violent in certain respects, the situation would be somewhat different when the two lots met each other there near the Orlando West School.

Tema:
Obviously.

[ … ]

[about the postmortem on Hector Peterson]
Yutar:
I propose to put it [the report on the post-mortem examination] in, but I am waiting for the doctor to return from Durban, but I have got the post-mortem report as to the cause of death. He is not, as said by this witness [Tema], between 6 and 10 years old, he is a lad of 12 years, possibly 13.

Cillié:
Between 12 and 13. I do not know whether you could judge his age properly.

Tema:
Well, I must have misjudged his age because he was a short boy and he was being carried by this older boy. So I believe at that time I must have misjudged his age. It was only later that I learned from his granny that he was 13.

Cillié:
I haven't dealt with this one particular point; I am sorry I have to return to it. This is the question of what you thought. You thought that the police should not interfere?

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
If you had known that what they were doing was something wrong, then of course the police almost had a duty to …

Tema:
That is so.

Cillié:
I suppose I should ask you the question. You did not inform the police?

Tema:
No, I did not.

Cillié:
I wanted to ask you something else. In this march of the children were the youngsters, that is those that you estimated one at 8 years old apparently, there were children of that age, there were of 13, were they mixed up with the others, with those who were say, 17, 18, 19?

Tema:
Yes, they were. As I told Your Lordship that this shooting took place between 10 and 10:30.

Cillié:
I should have asked you this before. When the two sections, that is the police on the one part of the street, and the demonstrators shall we say on the other side.

Tema:
Yes.

Cillié:
Standing in the same street, the evidence here is that there was an effort by the students, by the demonstrators to out-flank the police, that is to come around them.

Tema:
Not what I noticed. It is a street like this and the children were standing in a row, in a sort of block in the street, because it was the school on their left and then a row of houses and a church on their right. So they could not flank the police because the police were themselves in the same street, so there was no way by which they could flank the police.

[ … ]

Cillié:
… You see, the evidence is also that these two sections were really confronting each other, but that the students made such a noise that it was not possible to speak to them. Is that possible?

Tema:
Well, as I said, they were whistling and some were singing and some were screaming, so there was noise.

Cillié:
I think that the police said that they were in a position of not speaking to them because they did not think that the other side would hear.

[…]

Source: Sophie Tema, testimony, 21 September 1976, SAB K345, vol. 139, file 2/3, part 1, Commission Testimony vols. 9, 10.