Where economic freedom fighters come from: Part VI

We lived to grow up in one of the richest locality in Black Consciousness Movement terms. Amazimzim dominated our political order right up to the 1990’s

Sibonelo Radebe

When Julius Malema was plotting the fall of South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, from the overflowing Orlando Stadium on the 30th of April 2016, we stood on the elevated ground of Laban Motlhabi Comprehensive School in Kwa-Thema to remember the beginning. The beginning of decent and when Eugen de Kock and Joe Mamasela were plotting Operation Zero Zero.

We stood in Laban Motlhabi to remember vividly the sombre moments on the morning after Operation Zero Zero on the 25th of June 1985. Kwa-Thema was a small and tightly connected township where almost everyone knew everyone. News of coordinated explosions at the crack of dawn, claiming 15 lives, traveled fast making that day a ‘Black Tuesday’. Everyone who could speak seems to have heard those booby-trapped explosions with some individuals adding spice to it:

I knew something was set to go wrong from last night. I was feeling it in my bones,” some claimed.

Others went further “Just before the explosions, I was woken up by a movement on my stomach. The kind that visits when things are about to go nasty.”

For one reason or the other there was no school that day, the 25th of June 1985. As usual, young township boys woke up to gather in street corners or at the shops. With a home at 80 Sibeko Street, located a stone throw away from the Verganoeg shops, we were close to the centre of narratives that would follow Operation Zero Zero.

The anger of Comrades was palpable. The revenge was clearly going to be cruel, if senseless. No wonder then a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report observed: “Ms Maki Skosana, whom some of the survivors identified as having been seen with Mamasela, was necklaced a few days after the accident.”

The reverberations from Operation Zero Zero also included the Kwa-Thema (Gugulethu) Cinema massacre. On the 1st of July 1985, comrades gathered for a night vigil to mourn and prepare for the burial of Operation Zero Zero victims. The night vigil at the Kwa-Thema Cinema was attacked by apartheid security forces. They blocked all the exits and fired teargas into the cinema. And they waited on the main entrance with live ammunition. Seven people died inside the cinema and scores were injured. Tempers within the forces of the mass democratic movement went through the roof. And they were met by a trigger happy security force. And so followed a trail of mass funerals in what was becoming a war.

The only brother I had skipped the country to join ANC armed wing uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) after narrowly escaping Operation Zero Zero. Peter Radebe left in 1985, never to return in the state of the brother we knew. We are told that he crossed into Botswana and then headed to Lusaka before settling in Angola. He comes back with a new name, a nom de guerre,  Mryder. He lands back home in 1992 with a fundamentally different individualistic world outlook. He spends most of his time, speaking to himself about things that he and he alone understand. A story for another day.

The overflow of developments like Operation Zero Zero into Laban Motlhabi Comprehensive School was palpable with a principal like De Lange. Rumoured to be a member of the Special Branch, De Lange ruled with an iron fist, hoping to instill fear to conquer our consciousness. He met his match.

De Lange would lock the school gates as soon as the clock hit 8 am. Those who found themselves outside the school gates would then face the South African Defence Force and worse the De Kok’s A Team. Chased around the township as if this were a Death Race, those arrested stood to be charged with loitering.

Inside the school premises, De Lange would make us sing strange songs like ‘Shall we gather at the river’. And part of De Lange’s marauding marches became a game to play.

De Lange was an extremely fit middle aged Boere. He could run after his target like mad inside those Safari Khakhis and on those brown Grasshoppers. Ensuring that none of us locked outside can gain entry into the school premises, De Lange would himself patrol the school parametres watching like a hawk the strategic skip-in spots.

He knew the strategic locations which stood to be breached and would take a towering view to spot offenders. He would see trespassing as it happens and then launch himself running towards the fence crossers. The distance between the skipping point and the school building was considerable. When De Lange emerges to come after you from his watchtower, while you just crossed the fence, you better be a good runner. The angle of your position of crossing the fence and the spot of De Lange’s emergence, plus his speed, is such that he is likely to get to the building entrance first and accost you. And you will be delivered to the security forces.

And so the idea was to fly past the point of convergence and disappear into the school building.

You don’t do this crossing alone. An effective modes operandi was to gather numbers to about ten and then cross en masse. De Lange would be confused by the number of runners not knowing who to catch first and who to let go. Even as he reaches the building entrance first, he may be eluded in divided attention with some learners having crossed between his legs as he stretches to reach the others from all sides. Stories of Rugby Try like jumps over the head De Lange have been told. You couldn’t dispute such stories in the face of the agility of fellow learners like Ninja.

Reaching the school building entrance ahead of De Lange would be just the beginning of the athletics. De Lange would mark you, by your clothing item and would not rest until he has cornered you from his class to class raids. And so, on entering the school building, the fence crossers would have to continue the run in order completely elude De Lange by opening distance and occasions by dropping the identifiable clothing item.

The runners’ job would be easier if the general body of learners come to their rescue. On hearing that there is a runner on the move, many learners would storm out of class to view and cheer. The whole spectacle, made of the sjambok wielding De Lange running after learners, would be perfectly visible for those perched on the first and second floor balconies. If you’ve seen and heard the whistling that surrounds car spinning in townships, you would appreciate this spectacle. The cheering and commotion would be cause for dejection for De Lange and help the runners disappear into the crowds. The noise would be louder if the runner is someone like Ninja who could skip in between building floors with ease.

And this could easily turn into a game of death, if for example De Lange locks you out and while trying to elude the South African Defence Force out on the streets you encounter the A Team.

Nevertheless, De Lange could not last as well. In a few months we had devised counter action which saw him exit the Laban Motlhabi campus with ihembe eligcwele umoya. We won the bigger battle. The Department of Education and Training was forced to abandon its plan of imposing a white principal on our school. And so came, relatively progressive principals like Mr Motaung to continue where Mr Masina who reigned in the pre Grove era, had left. These were the teachers who mixed with remarkable flair a disciplinarian pedagogy and liberation theology in a rhythm that was not far from Steve Biko’s teachings.

By the way we lived to grow up in one of the richest locality in Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) terms. Amazimzim dominated our political order right up to the 1990’s. And so, with the progression of time, the approach of liberation first and everything else including education will follow, did not sit well amongst many of us. We were taught that a significant part of the struggle against apartheid must look inward, within black communities themselves. Education, we were told, comes first. We knew of self-help at early age at the hands of Towers like Bra Mandla and Bra Tyson. We lived and breathed from the famous words of Steve Biko, or was it Barney Pityana: Black Man You’re On Your Own.

As such, at some stage of senior schooling years, we stood to question random and reckless agitations for class boycotts. That is not to say we were in principle opposed to class boycotts. We just became uncomfortable with the dangerous propaganda used to spark class boycotts and the immediate consequences thereof. These included divisive rumours about some teachers and students who were accused of being izimpimpi, apartheid state security spying agents. Such rumours would not only create commotion that disturbed schooling but threatened lives and most importantly they were further tearing our community apart. Amazimzim amongst us; bore the brunt of the myopic culture of: Either you’re with us or against us. And so; on occasions we would raise stern objections against the entertainment of these rumours and spurious reasons to embark on class boycotts and other out of order mongering.

We were then labelled Amazimzim. But we were not officially affiliated to any sort of Azanianism in its different forms, be it via the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) or the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo). Elements from both organisations tried very hard to bring us on board. We remained independent as operators of a loosely organised unit called Fighters Against Bantu Education (FABE) whose history must be written. This is a history that overflows into the painful chapter of the Paso versus Cosas wars that hit the Kwa-Thema township in the late 1990’s.

This the fourth and final installment of a four part series piece. Links to the first three part follow below


Where economic freedom fighters come from


Where economic freedom fighters come from: Part II

Where economic freedom fighters come from: Part III

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