The Fall of Bophutaswana

by Mar 11, 2014All Articles


In 1994 the Bantustan Dictator, Lucas Mangope refused to participate in the transformation of South Africa. On Friday, 3 March 1994 we met as teachers at Rooigrond hotel which was just outside the fictional borders of Bophutatswana, and about a kilometer from Mangope’s main prison. The reason for meeting there was because Mangope did not allow mass meetings in Mmabatho, the bantustan’s capital. I was a high school teacher at the time and a member of the ANCs education desk. It was a month before the elections and Mangope was meeting with the right-wing Afrikaner Freedom Front, and the neo-nazi Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging. We were determined to effect a general strike. Nurses and health workers had already been on strike since January. We arrived in Rooigrond in cars anded the busses. We were between 5 and ten thousand people. Cde Tlabhanyane, a woodwork teacher at a local technical school led proceedings. Mangope’s helicopter circled over head.

The meeting went on most of the day. We agreed to meet and protest in front of the Education Department Offices, near the Mmabatho Sun Hotel on Monday, 6 March. We also agreed on a boycott of all shops and businesses belonging to Mangope and his cronies. We called on all other civil servants and workers to join a general strike. We realised that Mangope would put road blocks along the twenty kilometer stretch between Mafikeng and Rooigrond. We decided that every-time they arrested anyone we would all stop our cars and busses in the road and refuse to move. Our vehicles numbered about 200, and there were only four roads in and out of the capital. And this is exactly what we did. Not a single person was arrested. At every roadblock we engaged with Mangope’s soldiers and police and implored them to join the uprising.

By Monday, 6 March, Bop Broadcast workers also joined the strike and made their own pilgrimage to Rooigrond, as did civil servants and health workers. Teacher’s gathered at the education department. It was seven in the morning and we realised that the cops were arriving with dogs and reinforcements. we quickly caucused and decided to regroup at the South African Embassy next to the international schools. Cars were volunteered, commandeered and busses hijacked. Before the police realised what was happening we had reached the gates of the Embassy, and blocked to two access roads with hundreds of cars and busses, so the police could not effectively deploy. We were some 5 000 teachers and we refused to move away from the embassy gate. We effected a sit down strike right there. Bantustan residents had their South african citizenship restored in January 1994, and we were demanding that the South African government protect its citizens from the Bop army and police.

While there a German Television Journalist walked up to me and suggested we establish a media centre. He quickly coached me on how to do this and gave me all the numbers of local, national and international press and media associations. My school was standing empty, I lived on the premises as a school hostel superintendent and had telephones and fax machines at my disposal. It was a time before cellphones and most journalists had pagers. We used the page system in much the same way as one would use twitter or whatsup these days. We broadcast everything that was happening very rapidly in the form of short media releases.

In the meantime the Bop Broadcast Corporation collapsed as all the broadcast workers went on strike, and Mangope’s son, who was the head of the Corporation fired all the broadcast workers. Mangope effectively had no voice while our voice as the mass of workers and people increased dramatically through all the national and international broadcasters. Mangope’s other son Kwena, who was in charge of the army advised his father to negotiate. mangope responded by firing Kwena and disarming his own army.

Mangope called on the AWB and the Freedom Front to send armed fascists to protect his government from the people. We in the meantime set up several dedicated phone lines to his police stations and every minute of the day and night called on the thew police to stop protecting Mangope and to join the uprising. By Thursday afternoon, 9 March, Mangope’s police succumbed to the student uprising at the University, and burned their own armoured vehicle and handed weapons over to the police. On Thursday Morning mangope’s security police threatened to come and arrest me. His helicopter was hovering overhead. Some teachers smuggled me out into a safe house, but by lunch time we were told that Mangope had fled, we saw numerous black Mercedez Benzes racing out in the direction of Zeerust, Lichtenburg and Vryburg. The ANC office in downtown Mafikeng suggested that we all gather at the Montshiwa Stadium and march from there to take over Garona and proclaim Mangope overthrown.

During this march rumours about the presence of the AWB at Garona and at MEGA City abounded. The population was in fighting mood. and stormed in the direction of Mega City and Garona. The shop owners and retail managers at the Mega City Complex, most of which be;longed to mangope’s cronies abandoned their shops. The complex was funded by the Bop pension fund. Needless to say the complex was looted. It was at this point that the AWB and Freedom Front arrived on the scene in great numbers. Despite all access routes covered by road blocks of the South African Defence Force, these heavily armed white fascists were simply allowed through.

That night at around one o’clock I received a call from an afrikaans speaking woman who told me that the AWB knew where I was and that they were coming to get me. A fellow teacher, Peter DeLisle smuggled me out of Mafikeng and dropped me off at Shell House, the ANC HQ, where I was met by Gill Marcus and Karl Niehaus. Throughout the night of the 9th, the Friday of the 10th, to Sunday the 12th the AWB and Freedom Front Thugs drove through the streets of Mafikeng/Mmabatho randomly shooting people, killing some 65 people. On Saturday the 11th of March the Transitional Executive Council a delegation to meet Mangope on his farm in Dinokana to tell him that his bantustan had been dissolved

Written by By David Van Wyk

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