Aluta Continua, a multimedia exhibition at the Iziko Slave Lodge, zooms in on the Western Cape chapter of the 1976 student uprisings, particularly the response from students, learners and youth across the province after the killing and arrest of school children in Soweto. The brutal 16 June 1976 killings immediately sparked solidarity across the country, signalling a shift in resistance politics that would begin to mark the end of apartheid. Widely considered a watershed moment in South Africa’s history, the 1976 student uprisings are most closely associated with Soweto and Hector Pieterson. This exhibition brings into the public domain the previously marginalised stories of the Western Cape, where the second highest number of deaths were recorded in 1976. The exhibition is curated by Iziko Social History Curator Lynn Abrahams.
The 11 August 1976 killing of school children from Langa, Nyanga and Gugulethu is marked as a turning point in the resistance and liberation narratives of the Western Cape and was a catalyst for widespread, organised resistance campaigns. Already prior to the student uprisings, people in the Western Cape had protested the inequalities and brutality of the apartheid regime. However, in 1976, young people, influenced by Black Consciousness philosophy, took centre stage. The student uprisings resulted in the mobilisation of youth, workers, parents, communities, sports and religious groups into more formal anti-apartheid structures whose activities eventually brought democracy to the country. Although this echoes what was taking place throughout South Africa, the contribution made by the activists of the Western Cape can never be underplayed. This exhibition honours their resilience, steadfastness and courage.
Many were killed and injured, with Xolile Mosi from Langa being the first casualty. The police brutality in Langa angered students and sparked protest action across the province. Towards the end of August, students in areas such as Bonteheuwel, Athlone and Mannenberg, among others, took to the streets in solidarity with students in the townships, and 15-year-old Christopher Truter became the first casualty in the so-called Coloured areas. By September the unrest had spread to the rural areas. Between August 1976 and January 1977, 148 were recorded dead. Although this exhibition records the names of all those killed, we are mindful that the list might be incomplete and that there may be many inaccuracies. However, the huge number of people who died speaks to the intensity and the brutality of this period. This was the beginning of the end of apartheid.
Peaceful protest were often met with rubber bullets, teargas, live ammunition, state of emergencies, banning order, detentions, torture and funerals became a weekly feature. This did not crush the determination of young and old but instead invigorated them to pursue the struggle for liberation and people’s power. It was a period of “Freedom or death, victory is certain”.
Communities responded to this brutality by organising themselves into various grassroots organizations such as Congress of South African Students (COSAS), Cape Housing Action Committee (CAHAC), Cape Youth Congress (CAYCO), United Women’s Cape Organisation (UWCO), Western province Council of Churches (WPCC), Inter Church Youth (ICY), etc. all affiliating to the UDF after its formation in 1983 and campaigning against Tri cameral parliament, police brutality, arrest and apartheid in general. In addition, campaigns mobilised against issues affecting them such as rent increases, evictions, ‘bantu’ and ‘gutter’ education, inferior and inadequate working and living conditions, inequality in sports, etc. Every worker became an organiser and every student was an organiser. The slogan then were; “die mamas en die papas, die boeties en die susies, die oupas en die oumas, die oompies en die aunties, die honde en die katte- almal is in die struggle”. Every worker was an organiser…every student was an organiser.
The name of the exhibition derives from the Portuguese phrase ‘A luta Continua’, meaning ‘the struggle continues’, which was first popularised by the Frelimo leader Samora Machel during the Mozambican War of Independence, and later became associated with the anti-apartheid resistance movement when Miriam Makeba used the phrase ‘Aluta Continua’ as a song title. The correct wording of the phrase is: ‘A luta continua, vitória é certa’, meaning, ‘The struggle continues, victory is certain.’
LISTEN TO Miriam Makeba – A Luta Continue (In concert 1980)
On the Official Miriam Makeba YouTube Channel