JOHANNESBURG July 23 1996 Sapa


Policemen who shot schoolchildren in the June 16, 1976 Soweto pupil uprising had a lot to explain, Finance and Fiscal Commission chairperson Murphy Morobe told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Tuesday.

Speaking on the commission's final day of hearings on the Soweto uprising, Morobe said police opened fire after pupils killed a police dog and taunted police.

On the events in Orlando West, where Hector Peterson became the first victim of the Soweto uprising, Morobe said the pupil march had been peaceful until a police convoy arrived and a police dog was set on the marchers.

Pupils attacked the dog and killed it. Police then opened fire on the crowd.

"Yes there was taunting of the police. We were telling them to go".

A teargas cannister was lobbed into the crowd as another school group approached and children started scattering in all directions.

The policemen - mostly black - got back into their vehicles, which were stoned. "Their only way out was to drive through the crowd".

Morobe said what struck him was that most of the policemen at the scene were black, "pointing guns at their own children", and that the commanding officer was white.

"That crowd of policemen still have something to explain," he said.

Asked whether the police might have panicked when faced by a crowd of angry pupils, he said the pupils themselves had panicked.

In a panic situation people often did stupid things, but this was not expected of the police who had the firepower, radio communication and vehicles as back-up.

Morobe conceded that some of the policemen might have panicked.

Peterson, he said, must have been killed while the police were leaving the area. They were apparently firing from their vehicles.

Morobe said the organisers of the march against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools had read the Pied Piper of Hamlyn and believed that pupils would join the march as it progressed.

Morobe said he had joined the South African Students Movement, which planned the march, in 1973.

The apartheid government wanted blacks to be inferior to whites and were using the education system to achieve their goals, he said. This the student body recognised and decided to act against it.

Morobe said he believed he was not affected by the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction because he was in matric in 1976 and it was being introduced to lower standards.

"In the end it was not just about Afrikaans. It was about white domination of blacks," he said, adding the SASM became involved after a teacher from the Orlando West Junior Secondary School had indicated that pupils were dissatisfied.

An action committee was established and at its first meeting on June 13 it was decided to hold a peaceful protest march on June 16.

"A march was a novel idea for us," he said, adding teachers and parents were not informed of the march.

Discipline was emphasised so the authorities would not be tempted to act against the marchers, he said.

Morobe was arrested on December 31, 1976 and held in solitary confinement until he was charged with sedition in June 1978.

He served three years on Robben Island before being released in 1982.

Morobe speculated that much of the present crime wave could be attributed to lack of recognition and support for activists who had suffered at the hands of the previous government.

"Robbing a bank is a much more appealing option than waiting in line for soup on a cold day," he said.

South Africa should learn from the lessons of Zimbabwe, where war veterans had caused considerable disruptions to a society ill-prepared to deal with the needs of people who had suffered in the fight against oppression.

Morobe also said he would not want his children to go through the experiences of his generation.

"I lost a big part of my youth. While youth in other parts of the world were enjoying windsurfing, I was sitting in jail," he said.

He praised the Truth Commission for its work in helping the country to come to terms with its traumatic past. He said South Africa faced the challenge of uniting its resources to piece together its history.

Refering to the venue for the Soweto session of the commission's hearings, he said Regina Mundi in Soweto should be declared a national monument.

"Regina Mundi is a symbol, we should give it the status it deserves," he said. "If only these walls could talk."

South African Press Association, 1996
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