CIVICS and the CIVIC MOVEMENT predates most political parties in South Africa. Consider that CIVICS were the first truly democratic (inclusive) entities in many areas. It was the CIVICS that fought Apartheid – and won. No political party of today can claim to have genuine struggle credentials without claiming the history of the CIVICS.
Pebco in the Eastern Cape was the father of Civic Movement and its links and growth thereafter in terms of the Civic Movement is nationally recognized to the founder of the Civic Movement at national level.
Until 1976, Soweto had been governed by the Urban Bantu Council (UBC), created in terms of the Urban Bantu Council Act in 1961. The UBCs replaced the Advisory Boards earlier established by the NATIVES URBAN AREAS ACT of 1923, and allowed “for the democratic election of new bodies, with African chairmen and some administrative duties”. What little popular legitimacy the councils may have had at its formation was steadily eroded as its inefficacy became evident to younger township residents whom were excluded from decision making.
In the weeks leading up to the 16 June protests, members of the UBC became increasingly concerned about the growing crisis in education. At the 14 June meeting of the UBC, Councillor Leonard Mosala warned that enforcing Afrikaans in schools could result in trouble. Speaking of the children, he said:
“They won’t take anything we say because they think we have neglected them. We have failed to help them in their struggle for change in schools. They are now angry and prepared to fight and we are afraid the situation may become chaotic at any time.”
The death knell for the UBC was an attempt by the WRAB to impose a rent increase on 1 May 1977. It emerged that the UBC had been informed several months earlier about the proposed rent increases and had made no attempt to oppose them. Led by Mr Daniel Montsisi, the students organised a successful campaign against the proposed rent increase. In June 1977 the Soweto Committee of Ten was formed to run the affairs of the area. It also called itself the Soweto Local Authority Interim Committee and was headed by Dr Nthato Motlana. It had the backing of SASO, BPC, Black Women’s Federation, black community programs and several church, social and welfare organisations. It included many of the key figures in Soweto at the time, including social worker Ms Ellen Khuzwayo and the headmaster of Morris Isaacson School, Mr Lekgau Mathabathe. The WRAB officially suspended the Soweto UBC on 29 June 1977 and ostensibly looked forward to working with the Committee of Ten..
According to Mr Percy Qoboza, editor of The World and a driving force behind the Committee’s formation:
“For the first time, blacks in Soweto have taken the initiative in establishing their brand of leadership outside the institutions of government, which have failed dismally in the past three decades.”
The Committee of Ten drew up a blueprint for Soweto which envisaged a Soweto City Council with powers and structures similar to those of the white city councils. It intended to present this to the people of Soweto at a public meeting on 31 July 1977, but the meeting was banned and a number of the Committee’s members were detained in terms of the Internal Security Act. In October 1977, the Committee of Ten was banned, but it still operated regardless.
By 1979, the Soweto Committee of Ten had transformed itself into the Soweto Civic Association. Later it played an important role in trying to establish an alternative ‘people’s authority’ in the township during the 1980s.
In 1984 Dr Nthato Motlana wrote a foreword for the Soweto Civic Association Annual General Meeting Report:
We refused to participate under the new local authorities because we maintained there was no authentic transfer of power to
blacks even at that level. The SCA is committed to working at the grassroots for the removal of all obstacles in the way of economic evolution of the people. With Top down control over local authority there can be no justice in this system when blacks are not represented in the next seat of power, to decide for their people what power may be delegated to the
It is the white government — in total and absolute control — who decides at his own discretion which power if
any — the blacks in the local councils may exercise. We warned that unless the government spelt out clearly how the local authorities are to be financed, there would be turmoil in the townships. We hate to say “We told you so” for so many lives have
been lost in the futile attempt to prove that the township can be “self-sufficient” under Apartheid.
We demand that taxes derived from the central business districts where blacks shop, from commercial and industrial areas where we work, and the massive GST we pay as the major consumers of goods and services, be used for the development
and running of the black township.
The government has turned a deaf ear to these demands.
We demanded freehold land tenure for black South Africans.
We suggested levying of rates and taxes on land and improvement of the land as is done for all other race groups would be the most feasible system of raising local revenue rather than rentals and service charges.
About the burning of schools, We would like to make our position in the civic association crystal clear. We most certainly would
like to see our children back in school. We would not like to see schools burnt down. But we are in total agreement with the students in their demand for a just education system.
We want to salute our Indian and coloured compatriots ably led by the UDF and their organisations for the brilliant fight they put up against co-option into the white laager.
To the government and its puppets we want to repeat the warning that has reverberated from all corners of this land. You cannot ignore 75 percent of the people of this land. You cannot pretend that by denationalising and consigning them to the bantustans you will enjoy the fruits of an economy we have built up together. That way lies disaster. Ours is a simple demand: One man, one vote in an undivided fatherland. Nothing else will restore peace in this land.
This reverberated throughout the country.
Opposition organised through civic and student organisations proliferated. Attacks on councillors trying to implement the increases intensified, leading to the resignation of many in 1984. Between January 1985 and July 1986, rent boycotts were launched in Ratanda, Katlehong, Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, Alexandra, Tembisa, Soweto and Vosloorus. By August 1987, it was estimated that rent boycotts in the PWV had cost more that R188 million.
Rent boycotts quickly spread beyond the confines of the PWV (now Gauteng). In June 1985, tension around rent and school boycotts in the townships surrounding Barberton in the eastern Transvaal reached a peak. Violent government reaction to rent protests culminated in police shooting on a protest march on 21 November 1985 in Mamelodi where thirteen people died. Captain le Roux of the SAP, who participated in the shooting, told the 1989 inquest hearing that the police had adopted a shoot-to-kill approach, aiming particularly at people who appeared to be leading the crowds.
The Mamelodi massacre radicalised the township community. As in the Vaal, the violence of the police response to rent protests escalated protest and opposition, rather than curbing it. Sustained rent and consumer boycotts and stay aways were launched. Some of this protest was also accompanied by violence, and the toll of deaths and injuries rose as police again tried to curb the protests.
Stanza Bopape was a 27 year old activist from Mamelodi and freshly elected as General Secretary of the Mamelodi Civic Association when he was detained on 9 June 1988 and taken to John Vorster Square police station. Then he disappeared without trace. It was later revealed at the TRC that Security Police shocked him to death during torture.
CIVICS did not let up – no matter how hard the security forces tried. The CIVICS won the war. All this while political heads sat high and dry in Lusaka and London.
The CIVIC MOVEMENT is back. We will never give up.