This is an interview that Tsietsi Mashinini conducted with the media in November 15, 1976 and March 14, 1977.According to Wikipedia Mashinini was a bright, popular and successful student at the Morris Isaacson High School.
He was part of the planned mass demonstration by students for 16 June 1976.
The demonstration became known as the Soweto Uprising and lasted for three days.
During the mass demonstration several hundred black students were killed.
[An interview with Mashinini was obtained October 9 in London, from which the following are major excerpts. The footnotes are by Intercontinental Press.]
Question: Could you tell us what life is like in Soweto?
Answer: I don’t know in what way I can portray the picture. But Soweto is the biggest Black township in South Africa. It has about 80,000 houses, which are inhabited by more than one million people. I came from a family of twelve kids. And my parents make it fourteen.
We stayed in a four room house, and the rooms are about eight by ten. Very few houses have electricity. Of those with electricity, most of them belong to the in Soweto had wages just to keep them alive, and not to have any other needs a human being has. Bourgeoisie in Soweto. It is ghetto life all the way. Very few gas stoves around. There are lots of basic needs people cannot afford, because of very low wages. In fact, when a survey was done in 1974 it was found that 60 percent of people in Soweto had wages just to keep them alive, and not to have any other needs a human being has.
You don’t own any property except your furniture. The house is not yours – it belongs to the Bantu Administration Board.
You are in the urban areas for the purpose of either schooling or working. If you are not doing either of the two, you are sent to the Homelands.
Soweto has very few recreational facilities. It has two cinemas, about six municipal halls, and scattered playgrounds here and there. It has almost 300 schools, from grade level Sub A through matriculation. There is no university in Soweto. If you want to go to university, you go to one of the tribal universities.
Q. You mentioned bourgeois layers in Soweto. Can you explain that further?
A. They are a very small percentage. In fact they have a special township, a place for the rich, called Dube. That is where you find most of the big houses and mansions. Most of the people who stay there are doctors, lawyers, and people who have got the best jobs in town. The rest of the people are labourers and drivers. They constitute 85 percent.
Q. Could you describe the conditions in the schools and the education system for Blacks in South Africa?
A. Besides having to buy everything you need at school, you pay high school fees. There are a number of bursaries that are granted on merit, but usually they are granted to students from rich families. The classes have almost eighty pupils in them. There are two or three on a desk even at high school. At primary school level you sit down on benches in rows with no desks at all. Our schools don’t have heaters. The school simply has a classroom, a blackboard, and the Department of Bantu Education provides the chalk and writing material for the blackboard. Everything else in the classroom is provided by the pupils.
After April, the Bantu Education Constitution laid down that if you have not paid the fees you should be sent out from the school.
If you don’t wear the proper school uniform every day, you are liable to expulsion. Teachers cane you for whatever offence, and each school has its own regulations.
The school I came from, you enter at 7 a.m and school goes out at 5:30 p.m, with two breaks in between: one at ten o’clock for twenty minutes and a lunch break between one and two o’clock. You get punished for not having shoelaces, belts, ties, and buttons. And if you are a girl and you are wearing a tunic, you get punished if your buttons do not correspond to your tunic.
In South Africa, the teaching is very impersonal and indifferent.
It’s only in rare cases where you find the teacher with an interest in his students or pupils. Most of the time the teacher just comes in, gives you work, and goes out.
Q. Are all the teachers Black?
A. Yes, all Black. In my school there was a white teacher. He came this year and was not well received by the students. I understand there are almost eighty white teachers in high schools all over South Africa. This is supposed to project an image overseas that Blacks and whites are living quite happily, that we even have white teachers in Black schools. I don’t know how many times that teacher nearly got beaten up at school by students because of the bitterness the Black people have.
Q. Can you describe how the recent student protests developed around the Afrikaans language?
A. We don’t have much political education in South Africa and most of the material you read out here is banned in South Africa or it is for the whites only. So you come to realise that you know very little about the outside world except when Kissinger is going to Zurich. That, they announce. The local papers concentrate on local news. Newspaper reading has never been the interest of students for a very long period, because the newspapers were white.
A South African high-school student because it was there that the eruption started, at high-school level around the South African Students Organization-cannot tell you that Transkei is another aspect of oppression because of this and this. But in some way or another, the student understands and indentifies all elements of oppression like this Afrikaans thing-that is, our education, which is simply to domesticate you to be a better tool for the white man for the white man when you go and join the working community.