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Untold History

The Epic Story of June 16 Uprising

18th Jun 2019

The plan to overthrow then Apartheid government began as early as 1963 when Zephaniah “The Lion of Azania” Mothopeng was in the notorious Robben Island prison following his arrest during the PAC led Anti-Pass Campaign on the 21st March 1960. He was a member of the PAC National Leadership at the time. Fondly known as “Uncle Zeph” by the youth he mentored and guided and the “Lion of Azania” by all freedom fighters, Zephaniah Mothopeng began mobilizing the youth as soon as he was released from Robben Island as a “Prison Graduate”. 

The introduction of Bantu Education which imposed inferior education for African students and the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction were to be the rallying points which would bring together students, teachers and the community at large in the national struggle to liberate African people from political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation. 

This was to be a national revolt with Zeph Mothopeng as the Commander-in-Chief leading, giving direction and guidance to students, the youth and several PAC leaders and activists through a well organized nationwide underground network. Students and the youth generally, were to initiate the revolution. Uncle Zeph went throughout the country encouraging formation of students representative councils in schools and so called ‘black university colleges’. He also made political addresses during these visits. State intelligence picked up the news of the impending revolts and begin arrests of leaders as early as March 31 1976 in a futile pre-emptive move to prevent the revolt from taking off. Uncle Zeph was in this first group of leaders to be arrested during this police swoop. 

On June 15 1976 Kagiso Township in the West Rand erupted in riots. In Soweto the students were rallied under the Soweto Student Representative Council (SSRC) under the courageous leadership of Tsietsi Mashinini and fellow student leaders. 

On June 16 1976 students protests in Soweto once again exposed the brutal violence of the Apartheid government which used live ammunition against unarmed and defenseless school children. 

Soon after the June 16 revolts, then Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger repeatedly said that “professional agitators” were behind the Uprising. In July 1977 international media quoted then Chief of Security, PJ Coetze commenting on the issue as saying “an investigation into the Africanist movement is underway”, directly linking the June 16 Uprising to the PAC and its underground structures. 

On 09 January 1978 the trial of June 16 Masterminds began in Bethal Court with Zeph Mothopeng as accused No.1 of the 18 accused leaders and activists. His late beloved wife Urbania Mothopeng was detained in solitary confinement in a fruitless effort by the state to force her to testify against her husband. The indictment was 50 page-long and more than 80 people including the founding President of the PAC, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were cited as co-conspirators of the June 16 revolts. 

Uncle Zeph believed in the power of the youth and gave them political direction in furthering the national liberation struggle. He was a valiant freedom fighter, an outspoken and committed socialist who dedicated his whole life to the struggle for political, economic and social liberation of his people. 

The Bethal Trialists

Leaders and activists (the overwhelming majority of whom are still alive and were youth at the time) accused and tried in the Bethal Trial for plotting and participating in the “PAC plan” to overthrow the Apartheid government through nationwide violent revolution and charged under the retroactive Terrorism Act are as follows:

 Issued by the Pan Africanist Youth Congress (PAYCO).

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