Originally appeared in Inqaba Ya Basebenzi No. 21-22 (September 1986) under the pen name Basil Hendrickse.

by Weizmann Hamilton[1]

Hector Pieterson – shot and killed by the apartheid police

At about 7 am on 16 June, 1976, thousands of African school students in Soweto gathered at pre-arranged assembly points for a demonstration. They launched a movement that began as a local expression of opposition to the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in African schools, and developed, over twenty months, into a country-wide youth uprising against the apartheid regime.

This movement cost the lives of more than 1,000 youths, shot by the police. But, like an earthquake, it opened up a huge fissure in SA history, separating one era from another. It politicised a whole new generation of youth, and consigned beyond recall the era of defeats in the 1960s. It announced the determination of the youth to end one of the most barbaric examples of modern capitalist slavery.

Since February of 1976, anger had been mounting over the attempt by the regime to enforce Afrikaans as a medium of instruction — an anger very rapidly directed against the whole system of Bantu Education. First introduced in 1955, Bantu Education was designed not merely to place every possible obstacle in the way of the intellectual development of black Africans, but consciously to create an enslaved proletariat exploitable as cheap labour.

But the enormous expansion of the capitalist economy brought the need for skilled labour into direct conflict with the need for cheap labour, producing a serious crisis in the schools. Under Bantu Education, black African poverty and the cost of education combined to produce a high drop-out rate. By 1975 less than 10% of black African students were receiving secondary education and 0.24% were in Form Five (matric). The skills bottleneck forced the government to introduce some changes. The length of the school career was reduced from thirteen to twelve years. The pass mark for admission to secondary school was reduced from 50% to 40%, increasing the intake.

Against the background of a general shortage of accommodation, the result was chaos. A survey in January 1973 revealed that a quarter of all registered schools had no buildings of their own but congregated in church halls, tents or classrooms borrowed from other schools in the afternoon. In 1976 the government expected 149,000 students to enrol for secondary education – but had accommodation for only 38,000. In the event more than 250,000 enrolled!

This state of affairs caused enormous bitterness amongst parents. Many regarded education despite its deficiencies as the hoist that would lift their children out of the poverty that seemed the unavoidable lot of the black working class.

In these conditions, the attempted imposition of Afrikaans — the language of the apartheid state — into the schools, added insult to injury. It sparked-off opposition even amongst conservative elements on the school boards created by the state to oversee Bantu Education who had tried to negotiate with the authorities to mitigate the effects of this measure.

Beginning with the boycott of Afrikaans classes, students rapidly began boycotting all classes. By early June several thousand pupils from a total of seven schools were on strike.

On 8 June two Security Policemen visited Naledi High School, where the South Africa Students Movement (SASM), which was organising high school students, had written a letter to the South African Student Organisation (SASO – led by Steve Biko) its black university counterpart, asking for assistance in the campaign.


The policemen were trapped in the principal’s office, the telephone wires were cut and their car burned when compromising documents were found in it. Reinforcements were fought-off by the students although the two police managed to get away. The story of this incident spread like wildfire through Soweto. Like the small stones which roll down a mountainside before an avalanche, it was a sign of the resentment and hatred that was to be launched against the police.

On 13 June SASM called a meeting at the Donaldson Community Centre in Orlando. 300 to 400 students representing about 55 schools decided to stage a mass demonstration on 16 June. An Action Committee, later known as the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) was elected to lead the campaign. It consisted of two delegates from each school, meeting in secret and using pseudonyms.

On 16 June columns departed from selected assembly points at a specified time to maintain discipline and to stretch police lines as much as possible. A dozen schools served as rendezvous points, with the final destination Orlando Stadium for a mass rally. Despite brushes with the police en route, most marches managed to reach the last meeting point in Orlando West.

However, as hundreds were still marching into Orlando, a large contingent of police arrived in police vans and spread out in front of the marches in the form of an arc. Defiantly the students kept on singing freedom songs.

Suddenly a white policeman threw a tear gas canister in front of the students. The students retreated slightly but stood their ground singing and waving their placards, reading “Away with Afrikaans”; “Blacks are not dustbins”; “Afrikaans is a tribal language” etc.


Then a white policeman drew his revolver and shot straight at the unarmed, singing students. Hector Petersen, the first victim of the uprising, fell in front of his comrades. Other police then opened fire.

The students, many of them girls as young as 10 to 12 years old; were stunned at first, and stood looking at the bodies of the dead and wounded. Then their rage and fury erupted. Picking up stones, bricks or any missile they could lay their hands on, they advanced towards the police lines and threw them at the police. As one journalist commented,

What frightened me more than anything was the attitude of the children. Many seemed oblivious of the danger. They continued running towards the police, dodging and ducking, despite the fact that they were armed and continued shooting.

The Soweto Uprising had begun.

The police retreated pursued by the youth. All buildings associated in any way with the state — administration board offices, post offices, and especially beer halls — were attacked. The youth requisitioned, in the name of the revolution, petrol from garage owners to make petrol bombs and set fire to these buildings. Bottle stores were attacked and the liquor emptied into the streets.

By midday, two army helicopters circled over Orlando West, dropping tear gas. Two special counter-insurgency units from Pretoria and Johannesburg (created only a few months earlier) were brought into action.

By that evening fourteen personnel carriers, known as Hippos, arrived in the townships. Designed to withstand landmines in the guerrilla war zone in Namibia and Zimbabwe, they were now to become a natural part of the township environment. Their real purpose — to defend the regime against the working class internally — was beginning to be exposed.

The lay-out of the townships was based on military calculations to suppress working class revolt. Provision was made for the marshalling of armoured cars at convenient vantage points. Houses were, built in low-lying areas where they could be kept under surveillance. In 1975 a group of young white architects were told by the Durban City Engineer a number of conditions to be observed in township layout. Three which struck them were: (1) the width of the roadways was to be sufficient to allow a Saracen (armoured car) to execute a U-turn; (2) the distance between houses had to be kept above a given minimum and the houses aligned so that firing between them would not be impeded and there would be no shelter for a fugitive; (3) the distance between the boundaries of the township and the main highway had to be beyond the range of a .303 rifle.[2]

Estimates for the death toll of that first day, 16 June, vary from 25 to 100 people. By the second day 1,500 police armed with Sten guns, automatic rifles and hand machine carbines were called into Soweto and army units were placed on standby. The casualties were higher than on the previous days; possibly hundreds dead. Indiscriminate shooting was the order of the day. Raising a clenched fist and shouting the slogan Amandla! was sufficient to warrant a bullet in the head.


Parents had returned home the previous evening to find the townships in flames and their children either dead or missing. Many spontaneously stayed away from work on 17 June. White students at the University of the Witwatersrand staged a demonstration with one of the placards reading: “Don’t start the revolution without us.”

In Soweto itself the Minister closed schools on Thursday (17 June). By Friday, Soweto was effectively sealed-off, saturated with police in armed convoys, firing at any group they saw on the streets.

In the meantime, clashes had broken out in Tembisa, Kagiso and elsewhere along the Witwatersrand. At the tribal universities of Ngoye and Turfloop, there were solidarity boycotts. Turfloop was closed on 18 June.

Thus took place the political baptism – with bullets and teargas — of a whole new generation of working class youth in struggle.

In Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, the youth rapidly realised that by themselves they could not face-up to the police, and had to appeal to their parents, the workers, to support them. On Friday 18 June, they tried to persuade workers to stage a strike by mounting pickets at bus terminuses and railways stations. Without proper preparation, these first efforts were not successful.


After a relatively quiet weekend, the townships near Pretoria joined the struggle. By 22 June over 1,000 workers at the Chrysler (auto) factory had stopped work. This was the first conscious strike action in support of the students.

In revolutionary periods, the working class learns in days and hours what it takes years to learn in periods of class tranquillity. The ban on public meetings imposed by the government was circumvented by the organisation of mass funerals, which took place on 22 June and were used as political rallies.

As in Alexandra, the working class youth of Soweto quickly sensed the need to involve their parents. They also saw that to confine the battlefront against the state to the townships was a limitation. Consequently, the SSRC took on the responsibility of organising simultaneously for 4 August a student march into Johannesburg and the first political general strike in South Africa since 1961 — called for three days.

Such was the mood in the townships that the regime’s concession on the language question on 6 July made absolutely no difference. The revolt was now directed against the government itself. To ensure the success of the stay-away a key signal box was sabotaged, and all Soweto trains came to a standstill. The youth mounted pickets at bus stops and railway stations in many instances trying to force workers not to go to work. Between 20,000 and 40,000 marched towards Johannesburg, but were dispersed a few kilometres outside of Soweto. The stay-away over all three days was 60% successful.

Encouraged by this, the students prepared to organise a second 3-day stay-away, to begin on 23 August.

Meanwhile the revolt spread to students in the Western and Eastern Cape for the first time. The regime tried new tactics: a nationwide clampdown was unleashed against the student leadership with scores placed in indefinite detention.

To prevent the success of the second stay-away, the regime tried to sow disunity. Using leaflets and loudhailers, the police told the Zulu migrant workers, housed in hostels and physically, and socially separated from the township’s that the youth were about to attack them. They encouraged them to carry knobkierries and sticks to fight the youth. On the second day of the stay away, one of the hostels was burned, probably by an agent provocateur. The police blamed the students.

The workers charged into the townships, chasing and attacking the residents, burning their houses, raping and looting all under police protection. This was an anticipation of the tactics that were to be used on an even larger scale in 1985/6.

In the second stay-away, quickly learning from the experience of the first one, the youth, instead of physically preventing the workers from going to work, conducted an intensive house-to-house campaign explaining the issues to their parents.

The consequence was an 80-90% success rate. Moreover, while the stay-away was confined to Soweto, the second one received support in other areas of the Witwatersrand. Although the second and third days were less successful, it was an important conquest for the youth.

A third stay-away was called, the most successful of all. In the Transvaal [now divided in the provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo] a solid 75-80% support was sustained over three days. In all three-quarters of a million workers participated in this near national action.

Migrant Workers

This time the Zulu migrant workers gave almost total support. The youth had approached them beforehand explaining that they had been used by the state previously and appealing to them to support the struggle.

A fourth stay-away, called for five days, failed to materialise. The youth had over-reached themselves and the workers could no longer see the point. Despite this setback, the youth remained undeterred.

In October, the SSRC declared a period of mourning in solidarity with the dead, the detained, and workers who had lost wages in the stay-aways. This included the first (and successful) calling of a consumer boycott, and a campaign – in Soweto and the Western Cape – against alcohol consumption.


A press statement issued by the SSRC on 4 November rejected the pleas of shebeen owners that they be allowed to stay open because they were supporting students at school from their liquor-sales. It said:

There can never be any celebration and drinking of any kind while the whole black community has gone into mourning for their brave sons and daughters. These children, our colleagues, have died not because of their delinquency, but for the struggle for the liberation of all blacks in this country…

Our daily experience and that of the whole of Soweto residents is that nothing good has ever come out of shebeens, many of our fathers and brothers have been killed in and out of shebeens, thousands have been robbed of their pay packets after drinking in shebeens, many of our black sisters have been raped and or murdered by drunkards and thugs from shebeens.

Hundreds of our colleagues have become delinquent, beggars or orphans as shebeen queens and kings become capitalists.

In April 1977, the SSRC launched a campaign taking up a grievance of their parents, the workers. The puppet local authority, the Urban Bantu Council (UBC) decided to raise rents. The SSRC forced the UBC to suspend the increases, and then achieved the resignation of all UBC councillors by June. Then in Soweto, Alexandra, Mamelodi and Atteridgeville the youth forced the resignation of the school boards.

The last wave of the upsurge followed after 17 September, when students came out nationwide in reaction to the news of the death in prison of black consciousness leader, Steve Biko. Riots spread throughout the country and particularly in the Eastern Cape.

 By late August, however, twenty members of the SSRC had been arrested and the last declared president of the SSRC, Tromfomo Sono, had fled into exile. On 19 October the government outlawed seventeen organisations, most of the organisational structures of the Black Consciousness Movement. The 1976/7 uprising had come to an end.

Leaderless for the moment, the youth movement receded and the reaction gained a temporary upper hand. But unlike 1960, the ebb the movement entered did not at all indicate a decisive victory for the state and reaction. The new generation of working class youth were merely hardened and steeled by the barbaric actions of the regime. The lull was merely the prelude to even bigger confrontations between the classes in the future.


The generation of youth who led the 1976/7 revolt displayed an almost unparalleled heroism.

But the Soweto revolt of 1976 did not occur like a bolt from the blue. The militant defiance of the black youth of Soweto — an indispensable ingredient for sustaining the revolt over twenty months – reflected the changes which had taken place in the objective situation in South Africa in particular in the balance of forces.

These changes were taken forward even during the movement s darkest hours of defeat in the 1960s. Indeed this defeat, in the conditions of worldwide capitalist boom, provided the SA ruling class with the opportunity to engage in unprecedented economic expansion in a period of relative class peace.

While the benefits were reaped in the form of huge profits by foreign and local capitalists – and while the living standards of white workers soared – this period also saw an enormous expansion in the productive forces: the number, the size, and the mechanisation of the factories, mines and farms.

Correspondingly, there was a huge growth in the size and strategic placement of the black working class. An average growth rate of 5.5% between 1961 and 1974 led to a doubling of the number of African workers in manufacturing. By the end of 1974 African workers formed 70.4% of the economically active population. These conditions set in motion, in that marvellous phrase of Trotsky’s, molecular processes in the consciousness of the African working class, healing its wounds, and restoring its confidence to resume the battle against the bosses and against the regime.

Despite the economic growth, living standards of the African worker stagnated or fell. Unemployment increased from half a million in 1962 to 1.5 million in 1974 – by 1976 it was rising at the rate of 30,000 a month. The buying power of the rand declined between 1963 and 1971 by at least 24%.

For African workers, further social crises included a rapid increase in rent and transport fares and a drastic reduction in government spending on housing.

In 1957/8 the Johannesburg City Council built 11,704 houses for Africans. In 1975 it built 575 – out of only 9,808 houses built for Africans in the entire country. Yet in Soweto alone 2,500 houses were needed annually by the early 1970s to meet the needs of newly-married couples, without touching the backlog.

At the very point at which the confidence of the African working class was recovering, the post-war upswing of world capitalism came to an end. In 1974/5 there was a simultaneous recession in all the major capitalist countries. In 1975 the SA growth rate fell to 2%; in 1976/7 it was under 2% and in 1977/8 there was an absolute drop in production of 0.2%.

Durban Strikes

The effect of all these changes on the consciousness of the African proletariat is shown in strike figures. Between 1962 and 1968 the average annual number of workers involved in strikes was a mere 2,000 – reflecting the sense of powerlessness arising after serious defeat. The first signs of change came from April 1969, when 2,000 dock workers in Durban struck for higher wages. Defeated, they struck again in September/October 1971, and this time achieved a victory. There followed the month-long general strike in Namibia in December/January 1971/2. Though the demands of the workers were not met, it was much discussed in the SA townships as a demonstration of the power of the working class.

But the decisive turning point occurred in the strike wave which started on 25 January 1973. This strike of 7,000 workers at Frame Group textile factories spread rapidly throughout Natal and to other provinces. In February alone 60 strikes took place involving 40,000 workers. By the end of March, the figure had risen to 60,000 workers in more than 150 firms. Nationally, at least 100,000 workers took strike action. Largely successful, these strikes drew a clear Iine of demarcation between the era of defeat and passivity and a new era of militant defiance.

Thus the volcanic eruption of June 1976 was preceded and prepared by the necessary subterranean shifts that had taken place within the consciousness of the African proletariat.

Black Consciousness

The youth of the 1970s entered the struggle fresh. There was no tradition of genuine Marxism. Nor had the ANC or the SA Communist Party created or preserved an underground cadre to explain the lessons of the defeat of the 1950s in class terms, to channel the mood of the new generation, and to provide them with a bridge straight to the working class. Many participants in the struggles learned of the traditions of the previous generations only when they went to jail or into exile.

For such youth, Black Consciousness (BC) seemed an ideology that provided explanations for the oppression and exploitation suffered by the black people under apartheid. An important impetus to BC was the need to break with the debilitating influence of liberalism under which the feeble opposition to the regime was being mounted at the time by organisations such as the National Union of SA Students (NUSAS). The campaigns conducted by such organisations did not at all meet the needs of the black students or the community from which they came.

Thus when NUSAS set-up a “Freedom in Society” commission to examine laws which infringed on human rights, a black delegate asked pointedly:

What is the use of an African talking about the erosion of freedom in SA? We have no freedom and one or two laws more or less makes no difference to our situation.

Similarly, of what relevance to blacks was the old liberal song-and-dance about the “rule of law” when only whites could vote – for a white parliament and white supremacist regime?

The youth concluded that liberalism must have contributed to the defeats suffered by the working class at the end of the 1950s. Though their break with NUSAS did not take place consciously on a class basis, it represented an unconscious conflict between two irreconcilable class tendencies – a distorted expression of the clash between the white bourgeois and the black proletariat.

Correctly the youth understood the need to establish the unity of the oppressed before the struggle against the regime could be victorious. BC was seen as a vehicle for such unity.

It also provided black students at the universities, where the movement began, with the connection to the oppressed black majority from which they came.

To a generation who had spent their formative years observing with increased frustration what they saw as the acquiescence of their parents to the system, the attraction of BC was that it enabled them to assert themselves with defiant pride against a system that fed the blacks with daily doses of humiliation.

BC also provided a banner under which the ethnic barriers within the African population and between African, coloured and Indian people could be broken down. As Marx explained in relation to the subjugation of the colonial peoples by imperialism, this could continue only for as long as a sense of nationhood had not developed amongst the oppressed.


Moreover, despite the fact that BC distinguished enemy from friend on the basis of skin colour, it provided a means by which a penetrating criticism could be made of the black petty bourgeois stooges who were prepared to participate in the government’s schemes of divide-and-rule over the black working class.

At a time, for example, when the reactionary role of Gatsha Buthelezi had not yet come to be understood within the black working class as a whole, the youth forced his unmasking compelling him to establish himself very rapidly as the enemy of the working class.

The fact that BC provided no clear perspectives, policies, or programmes however was revealed only through the experience of the struggle itself.

The entry into struggle of the primary and secondary school youth radically altered the social composition of the BC movement. Overwhelmingly proletarian, the school youth took the slogans of BC out of university debating chambers and tested them in the field of the living struggle, accelerating debate about the adequacy of BC as a guide to action.

Joint Struggle

Before the youth turned to the workers in 1976, they considered themselves a sufficient force to lead the revolution. Khotso Seathlolo, one of the chairmen of the SSRC, said at the time:

We are not carbon copies of our fathers. Where they failed we will succeed. The mistakes they made will never be repeated. They carried the struggle up to where they could. We are very grateful to them. But now the struggle is ours. The ball of liberation is in our hands. The black student will stand up fearlessly and take up arms against a political system.

In the struggles of 1976/7 the youth discovered that the fierce pride and uncompromising determination that BC had instilled in them were not enough by themselves to overthrow the regime.

Face to face with the murderous power of the state, and the capitalist system which it defended, the youth came to understand that their anger needed the piston engine of the movement of workers in production to concentrate their struggle into a material force. At the same time they came to see that, while they had special concerns and interests, they were themselves an integral part of the working class.

In doing so they discovered from the workers themselves the limitations of BC. BC could remain a force with a national hold over the black youth movement, in fact, only for as long as the youth remained separated from the movement of the black workers.

The reasons for this were explained at the time in the Marxist publication Militant International Review (Autumn 1977):

It is important that we do not overstate the extent of the influence of black ‘nationalism’ on the African proletariat and that we distinguish clearly the nationalism of the workers from that of the radical petit-bourgeoisie.

From the standpoint of the African proletariat, their class exploitation is the primary fact of life. The very institutions of apartheid (foremost among them the hated pass laws) press upon the African workers essentially as class measures designed to maintain the slave-conditions of their labour.

In years past, the mass mobilisation of the African working class in struggle against the apartheid regime has been achieved on the basis precisely of working class slogans and working class demands. Hence, for example, the heavy reliance on anti-pass law campaigns and wage demands (pound a day etc.) in the late fifties and early sixties. The African workers have not, in general, responded to the empty slogans of pure nationalism – nor have they done so in recent months. Their launching of political strike action in the aftermath of Soweto (after long weeks of slow, thoughtful stoking-up) does not signify any deep excitement among them over black power slogans. It signifies rather their half-conscious but absolutely decisive movement as a class, in the course of a near-revolutionary social crisis, into the role of the revolutionary force within society – the only force capable of achieving the national and the social liberation of the black masses.

Inevitably, a certain amount of racial feeling, a certain response to nationalist fervour, is current within the ranks of the black proletariat. But it is necessary to say of these workers what Trotsky wrote in another context: their nationalism is only the outer shell of an immature class consciousness.

On the whole, the racial feelings are stronger the less the worker’s experience of factory life, i.e. the less the worker has come face to face with the actual conditions of exploitation; has encountered state repression as an inseparable part of capitalist production; has experienced the connection between the economic life of society and its political forms. It is largely for this reason that (among the working class in South Africa) ‘black power’ comes most readily to the lips of students – this and the fact that within the educational institutions radical petit-bourgeois influences are most directly encountered.

But when ‘black power’ evokes a response among workers it does so only in that IN PART it reflects A PART OF the experience OF THE BLACK WORKERS THEMSELVES. It is not taken in holus bolus. When workers respond to a nationalist slogan they do so as workers, not as petit-bourgeois nationalists. The worker interprets the slogan, gives it meaning, according to his proletarian perception of life. The less developed that perception the more adequate the slogan will seem. The more advanced and experienced the worker, the more clearly he perceives the makeshift character of ‘black power’ as a weapon of the working class struggle – and the more insistently he demands an organisation, a programme, a leadership that goes beyond it.

Burning Questions

‘Black power’ has no policy on the burning questions of the South Africa revolution: the control of the land, mines and factories; the organisations of production and distribution; the class characters of the revolutionary state. For the working class, black power can serve as no more than a vehicle for the expression of rage and frustration. It does not show the way forward.

The inability of BC to provide a coherent lead to the struggles of the working class youth became clear after the 1977 crackdown: by 1979 BC was in serious decline. The youth were turning increasingly to the Freedom Charter and Congress, the tradition to which the workers still adhered.

Already by June 1977, in his presidential address to the SASO annual conference, Diliza Mji articulated the beginnings of a class understanding that was developing:

The call today from liberal and verligte [enlightened] quarters to the Nationalist Government is that Blacks should be given more opportunity to participate in the so-called free enterprise system so that they should identify with it and be able to defend it against advancing communist aggression that is now at the door-step of SA. The need is therefore to look at the struggle not only in terms of colour interests, but also in terms of class interests.

It is against this background that in a capitalistic set-up like it is in SA we have to align ourselves with the majority of working people. You cannot lead people when you are staying in a R110,000 house, because you will not want to change the system because of your own class interests which shall always clash with those people. When houses are being burned, like it was happening in Soweto, the people will be saying we have nothing to lose and you will be saying this is madness, what? my beautiful house!

From 1976 the youth drew a further conclusion: the movement would have to be armed.

Throughout the 1976/7 the youth had fought a hopelessly one-sided battle against the shot guns, Sten guns and carbines of the state.

The youth yearned for arms to defend themselves. But these were not forthcoming. Instead the youth had to rely on their own ingenuity. They quickly learned how to deal with teargas; that a dustbin lid held at an angle could, with luck, deflect buckshot or ricochet bullets. They discovered that a tyre filled with petrol, lit and rolled down a hill towards police lines, could present the police with some problems; and that a tennis ball injected with petrol, lit and thrown into a building could be difficult to dodge. But this was hopelessly inadequate.

Caught by Surprise

The ANC leadership may have been caught by surprise by the events. But the uprising lasted for twenty months and still arms were not placed in the hands of the youth. This flowed not from the inertia of the leadership but from its pursuit of the bankrupt policy of guerillaism which, despite the heroism of the cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe, was no more than an irritant to the regime. The preparation of the mass movement itself was subordinated to the policy of guerrillaism.

Youth and Workers

Inqaba has explained the fundamentals of its position on guerrillaism and the armed struggle elsewhere [see here]. The point here is that the immediate consequence of the policies of the leadership was to perpetuate the separation of armed struggle from the mass movement of the working class. Thousands of youth crossed the borders for arms and training, hoping to return and liberate the oppressed through guerrilla war. They were needlessly diverted from the essential task of mass organisation of the working class.

Inside SA, COSAS was born in 1979 – the first national organisation for school students. AZASO (Azanian Students Organisation) broke with BC. The 1980 school boycott heralded a new era of struggle among the youth, linked from the start more closely with the workers, preparing and steeling them for the revolutionary upsurge of 1984/6. The outlook of the youth became firmly anti-capitalist, linked to a clear realisation that the main arena of the struggle was in the industrial centres of SA. In 1984/6 the demand for arms was more widespread and urgent than in 1976. Yet the youth did not cross the borders. Instead, the cry was “Umkhonto We Sizwe, we are waiting for you here. Arm us!”

The revolution of 1984/6 was led by the youth. The present generation could not have built for the pioneers of 1976 a better monument — not of stone, but of commitment to the ideals they had laid down their lives for. Today, as a result, the tasks in front of the working class are posed more sharply than ever before: – to build a mass ANC on a socialist programme to overthrow apartheid and capitalism together, to smash the state and bring about the socialist transformation of society under a regime of workers democracy.

[1] Together with a number of comrades from Noordgesig, a township at the northern entrance to Soweto, Weizmann Hamilton had served two spells of detention in solitary confinement in 1975 and 1976. The author, fellow comrades Johnny Ramrock and Chris Welmers were charged with conspiring to overthrow the state under the Suppression of Communism and Terrorism Acts. The case against them collapsed following the refusal of fellow comrades Patrick McGluwa and Raymond Burgers to give evidence for the state. Comrades Patrick and Raymond were sentenced to twelve months in prison for contempt of court whilst the author, Johnny and Chris were given five-year banning and house arrest orders in May 1976. To evade arrest after the outbreak of the 16 June uprising, they went into exile shortly thereafter.

[2] Reported in Baruch Hirson, Year of Fire, Year of Ash (1979).