15 June 2018 Photo Sonia Small
Role of (Orange) Free State youth prior and after 1976 student uprising
Dr Chitja Twala is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at the UFS.

On the eve of the commemoration of the 42-year anniversary of what became known as the Soweto uprising of June 1976, it is equally significant to highlight the role played by the student and youth organisations in the (Orange) Free State prior and after these uprisings. Despite all the repressive laws, the students and youth continued with their songs such as Siyophinda Siyinyove! Siyophinda siteleke futhi (We will continue rioting and striking). 

The banning of the South African black opposition, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1960, discouraged most African organisations during the 1960s. After they had been banned, both these organisations established a mission-in-exile, leaving an organisational vacuum in the country. This vacuum was partly filled by the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) during the 1970s. The late 1970s introduced a revival of black opposition, as popular class struggles evolved from the coordinated national mass struggles to one of combined student, youth, trade union, and community struggles against apartheid. 

Without doubt, the 1976 Soweto uprising triggered a surge of student protests in centres around the country, including the Free State, bringing young people into the frontline of anti-apartheid protest. After this, a number of influential student and youth organisations were formed. The United Democratic Front (UDF), which was formed in August 1983, became a haven for such organisations as most of them became its affiliates. 

Work provides overview on youth organisations
This piece of work provides a synopsis to show how the student and youth organisations emerged in the Free State after 1976 and in the 1980s. Without doubt, the 1980s were a critical turning point in the political history of the Free State. For both the student and youth sections, it was a period of massive intensification of the struggle against the apartheid state, and the urban terrain was a key site of such a struggle. In the 1980s, there was a transformation of the political culture in Free State townships, with unprecedented political radicalisation among broad sections of township residents, including students and the youth. From 1985 to 1989, the State attempted to crush this student and youth resistance through states of emergency and detaining the activists, while the ANC called for a strategy of 'making South Africa ungovernable' and promoting 'people's power'.

Student organisations such as the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) promoted the idea that the struggle for quality and equality in education went hand in hand with all other struggles in society. In reality, the issue of instability in schools in the Free State started in the late 1970s, although not in such an organised fashion as in the 1980s. This started in schools where there were boarding facilities. Ironically, this happened in the two former homelands of the Free State, namely Qwaqwa and Bophuthatswana (Thaba Nchu). For example, students at Makabelane High School in Qwaqwa challenged the Qwaqwa education authorities as early as May 1976, two weeks before the Soweto uprising. At Moroka High School in Thaba Nchu, a female hostel was burnt in protest. The students complained about the hostel facilities at their school, but their protest was not aligned to any student or youth movement because it was before the formation of COSAS. It should be noted that one of the principal arenas of conflict in schools, particularly in the Free State, was a growing popular rebellion against the imposition, over the years, of various school board structures. Most students responded with increasing resentment to the creation of these school boards which was believed to be remote-controlled by the apartheid education authorities.

Northern Free State students in Tumahole near Parys became politically conscious as early as 1975 when the Parys African Student Organisation (PASO) was formed in December 1975. Its founders sought to make students and the youth politically conscious through performing semi-political plays, the first one being 'Panga man'. Because of the disagreements among the students, PASO was disbanded in 1976. In 1977, PASO was briefly active again but changed its name to the Parys African Student Association (PASA). PASA disintegrated again when its leaders left Tumahole. In June 1980, the Tumahole Student Organisation (TSO) was launched. Like its predecessors, TSO was concerned with play productions. After the formation of the Tumahole Youth Congress (TUYCO) in January 1985, the township was on fire during 1984 and 1985 when students started with anti-apartheid protests.

Bloemfontein youth joined the resistance
During the 1980s, the students and youth in the Bloemfontein township of Mangaung, for instance, further joined forces in establishing what became known as the Mangaung Youth Congress (MAYCO). MAYCO became the students' mouthpiece in Bloemfontein after COSAS had been banned in 1985. The main aim of MAYCO was to mobilise students in Mangaung for the establishment of Student Representative Councils (SRCs) in schools to replace the Prefect System, which was deemed to be undemocratic. The banning of COSAS made little difference, since new student movements were swiftly formed to replace it and proposals to reform the schools were irrelevant in the face of chanted demands for ‘liberation before education’. Student activities were not only confined to Bloemfontein as the central city of the province.
 
In Botshabelo, about 55 km from Bloemfontein, students organised themselves and formed the Botshabelo Youth Congress (BOYCO). Most activities of BOYCO were school- as well as community-based. In 1987, BOYCO was instrumental in challenging the incorporation of Botshabelo into the Qwaqwa homeland by staging protests and rejecting the Qwaqwa Education Ministry. Due to the growing militancy of the residents and the youth organisations in the Thabong Township (Welkom), the councillors used other forces to suppress the student and youth activities. For example, there was a vigilante group in the township called the Phakathi Group (initially named after its leader, Councillor Albert Phakathi) or the A-Team, which emerged in April/May 1985 and was recruited from Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal.

These vigilantes were responsible for massive bloodshed and misery as they launched their onslaught against the student and youth activists in the township. With continuing problems in the Thabong Township in the beginning of 1987, students organised themselves into what was called the Thabong Student Congress (THASCO). It started at Lebogang Secondary School in 1987, and later other schools were associated with it. In January 1989, youth activism was revived in Thabong when the youth gathered at the Methodist Church to establish the Thabong Youth Congress (THAYCO) and elected the late Paul Mahlatsi as chairperson. In Edenburg, which is approximately 70 km south of Bloemfontein, students formed the Edenburg Youth Congress (EYC) in the small township of Ha Rasebei. 

This article was written by Dr Chitja Twala, Head of the Department of History at the University of the Free State. This piece of work is also the shortened version of the article by him on student and youth organisations in the Free State.


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