Rural youth and changing patterns of political mobilisation in the Northern Transvaal village of Zebediela, 1976-1990

  • Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Keywords: Generational consciousness, Rural youth, Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), United Democratic Front (UDF), Chieftainship, Apartheid, Bantustans, Lebowa, Generasiebewustheid, Plattelandse jeug, Swart Bewustheidsbeweging (SBB), Kapteinskap, Tuislande


Beginning with the massive uprising by the students of Soweto in Johannesburg on 16 June 1976, black schools in South Africa became theatres of war as the students engaged in running battles with the authorities against, inter alia, the poor quality of education provided to blacks in the country; the Afrikaans language medium; authoritarianism, and the apartheid system in general. Although there were whispers of rebellion in rural communities during the mid-1970s, and urban students studying in the countryside were prominent in these uprisings, it was only in the 1980s that rural youths reached a level of political consciousness comparable to that of their urban counterparts and began to play a leading role in local struggles against apartheid policies and the Bantustan system. In the 1970s, rural youths were increasingly drawn into the education system, but they had not yet developed a strong political consciousness, whereas by the 1980s young people throughout the country had developed, what Colin Bundy calls, “generational consciousness”. Ambient social and historical processes reshaped their consciousness and they became self-assertive and conscious of themselves as a distinct social category with a common identity. They realised that they had the capacity to effect far-reaching changes in society. This consciousness developed at the time when there were progressive erosion of African tradition and the legitimacy of chieftainship; thus rendering rural youths more receptive to urban youth culture and political ideologies propagated by the urban-based liberation movements. Using archival material and oral sources, mainly interviews with former students in the area, this article looks at changing patterns of youth mobilisation in the village of Zebediela in the northern Transvaal from 1976 to the early 1990s.


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