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Year of Fire, Year of Ash

Year of Fire, Year of Ash

Baruch Hirson | Shula Marks


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‘We can say without fear of being contradicted by history, that June 16, 1976 heralded the beginning of the end of the centuries-old white rule in this country.’
Nelson Mandela

Originally banned on publication by the apartheid government, Year of Fire, Year of Ash is an eye-opening account of how, in June 1976, 20,000 school students faced down the tanks and guns of a vicious racist regime, in a revolt that galvanized the black working-class and became a pivotal turning point for the anti-apartheid movement. More than this, the book overturns much of the conventional logic that served to explain the event at the time, showing it was not simply a student protest, but part of a wider uprising.

Released in this new edition to mark the fortieth anniversary, Year of Fire, Year of Ash provides an unparalleled insight into the origins and events of the uprising, from its antecedents in the 1920s to its role in inspiring global solidarity against apartheid. As South Africa experiences a new wave of popular discontent, and as new forms of black consciousness come to the fore in movements around the world, Baruch Hirson’s book provides a timely reminder of the Soweto revolt’s continued significance to struggles against oppression today.

Baruch Hirson (1921-1999) was a lifelong activist who spent nine-and-a-half years in South African prisons as a result of his opposition to the apartheid regime. Following his release in 1973 he left for England, where he lectured in history at several universities and produced eight finely written, passionately argued books on the history of the left in South Africa. These include Yours for the Union (1989), The Cape Town Intellectuals (2000) and his autobiography, Revolutions in my Life (1995). He also founded the controversial critical journal Searchlight South Africa. Year of Fire, Year of Ash, originally banned in South Africa, remains the most widely read of all his books.

'A seminal text to which new historical work continues to speak...a book for our time.'
LSE Review of Books
'Hirson’s book provides a timely reminder of the continued significance of the Soweto revolt to struggles against oppression today.'
Books Live

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover
About the Author ii
Title Page iii
Copyright iv
Dedication v
Contents vii
Tables and Maps ix
Foreword xi
Abbreviations xiii
Nineteen Seventy-Six 1
Introduction 3
Race Riots or Class War? 5
The 19608: from Quiescence to Resistance 7
Students in Revolt 7
The Uprising of June 1976 8
References 10
Part 1: From School Strikes to Black Consciousness 11
1. The Black Schools: 1799-1954 12
Schools: Segregated and Unequal 12
First Steps in the Cape 13
Education in the Interior 18
Early African Criticisms 20
Discrimination After 1910 22
The Students' Response 27
Strikes in the Schools 30
The University College of Fort Hare 32
Politics Comes to the Campus 34
References 36
2. Bantu Education: 1954-1976 40
Christian National Education: The Afrikaner Ideal 41
Bantu Authorities and Bantu Education 44
ANC Responds: the 'Resist Apartheid Campaign' 47
Higher Education Under Attack 51
The Extension of University Education Act 53
Schools Dismantled and the Struggle Continues 55
References 57
3. The University Student Movements: 1960-1969 60
Bantu Education Implemented 60
The Black Campus Protest 63
The NUSAS Issue 65
'Black Man, You Are On Your Own.' 69
References 74
4. Black Consciousness Politics: 1970-1974 76
SASO and the Black Consciousness Movement 76
Black Peoples Convention (BPC) Launched, July 1972 82
Black Consciousness in Action 84
The May Revolt, 1972 86
The 'Viva Frelimo' Rally 88
References 91
5. Secondary Schools and the African School Movement 93
Education for Black Labour? 93
New Labour Needs and School Expansion 94
Secondary School 'Explosion' 97
The Language Bombshell 99
School Students Organise 100
The South African Students Movement 102
References 105
6. The Black Consciousness Movement: Ideology and Action 107
One Million Members? An Impossible Goal 107
The Myth of BPC Radicalism 109
Non-collaboration? The BPC Dilemma 113
Buthelezi's Politics Pose a Problem 114
References 119
Part 2: Workers and Students on the Road to Revolt 121
7. Black Workers Set the Pace 122
The Economic Paradox 123
Workers' Organisations: Old and New 125
Black Consciousness and the Workers 127
The Strike in Namibia, 1971 130
Natal Workers on Strike, 1973 133
The Intervention of Barney Dladla 140
The Organisation of Trade Unions 142
References 143
8. The Strike Wave Spreads 146
Black Miners Shake the Country 147
Strikes Become Endemic 150
East London: Bantustan Leaders as Strike-Breakers 151
Strikes Without End 153
The Strikes and the Political Struggle 155
References 157
9. State Repression and Political Revival: 1974-1976 159
The Schlebusch Commission Reports 159
Detentions and Arrests 160
Impact of the Trials: 1976-76 161
The Bus Boycotts in 1975-76 164
'The Revolt Is Already Under Way' 166
South Africa Invades Angola 167
Buthelezi's Road to Liberation 168
References 172
10. The Soweto Revolt: June 1976 174
Chaos in the African Schools 174
The Campaign to Stop Afrikaans Medium Lessons 175
The Demonstration of June 16, 1976 180
The Youth Take Revenge 182
Police Terror 183
The Response of a People 184
Revolt in the Northern Transvaal 187
Leaders of the Revolt 191
The Parents Play Their Part 195
The Underground Organisations 199
References 203
11. The Revolt Takes Shape 206
The Funeral Ceremonies 207
Back to School? 208
The March on Johannesburg 210
Nation-wide Response 212
References 213
12. The Cape Province Explodes 214
The Shaping of Cape Society 216
The 'Eiselen' Line 217
The Schools in Cape Town 219
'Coloureds are Black, too' 221
Coloureds and Apartheid Politics 223
The Theron Commission 224
Cape Schools Join the Revolt 226
Separate, Yet Together 229
Blacks Invade the White City 232
Was There a Cape Town Leadership? 234
Other Centres of the Revolt 237
References 240
13. New Tactics in the Revolt 243
Reaction Takes the Offensive 243
Azikhwelwa Madoda! (Stay at Home!) 244
To Return or Not to Return to School 246
Legality and Illegality in Soweto 248
The September Stay-at-Homes 253
The Workers Stay at Home 255
Problems of the Political Strike 258
References 261
14. The Revolt Winds Down 263
The March on Johannesburg 263
Alcohol and the Christmas Season 264
Divided Counsel on Examinations 268
The SSRC Abolishes the UBC 270
The First Commemoration of June 16 273
SASM Politics in 1977 275
The Police Move In 277
References 279
Part 3: Black Consciousness and the Struggle in S. Africa 281
15. Anatomy of the Revolt 282
Origins 282
Consciousness and the Revolt 288
Black Consciousness as an Ideology 294
Black Consciousness and the Rejection of Class Analysis 298
The Black Consciousness Movement and Black Business 301
The Petty Bourgeoisie: Urban and Rural 303
References 306
16. Black Consciousness in South African History 308
The Roots of Black Consciousness 308
The Message of the CYL Leadership 313
Economics and the Poverty of CYL Policy 317
The ANC and the Programme of Action 321
From Africanism to Black Consciousness 324
Black Consciousness and Violence 326
References 329
A South African Glossary 331
When Did It Happen? A Chronology of Events 334
Bibliography 338
Acknowledgements 345
Index 347