Defiance at the station: Mhlaba's memories of the moment

In this excerpt from his memoirs, Raymond Mhlaba describes the chilling moments when the 1952 defiance campaign kicked off at New Brighton station.

"On 26 June 1952 we prayed the whole night at the civic centre in New Brighton. From the civic centre we left for the New Brighton station in the early hours on the morning of June 26. By five o'clock that morning we found sergeants, not even ordinary policemen, waiting for us. All the people from Red Location came to witness this event. The sergeant in charge asked me how to deal with the crowd after watching volunteers. I assured him that our people were well aware of the procedure of the campaigns. I addressed the people and told them to go home or to work after watching the volunteers defying unjust laws. Those who wanted to join the volunteers were to go and register for the Defiance Campaign in our ANC offices.

"I led the first group and we entered the 'Europeans Only' section of the New Brighton station. By half past six we were already in police vans on our way to jail. It turned out that my group was the very first to defy unjust laws in the whole of South Africa. Little did we know that we were making history.

"The Defiance sent many more volunteers to defy apartheid laws in PE [Port Elizabeth] railway stations. Most of the residents there supported the Defiance Campaign with fervour. People of PE gave me the name Vulindlela ("Open the way"), as I opened the way for the others to defy an unjust system."

- Raymond Mhlaba's Personal Memoirs: Reminiscing from Rwanda and Uganda, narrated to Thembeka Mufamadi (HSRC and Robben Island Museum, 2001), pp. 83-84


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"I opened the way for others to defy an unjust system."
Raymond Mhlaba
Raymond Mhlaba
Picture: Courtesy of Thembeka Mufamadi


In this lesson plan, learners will have an opportunity to study Raymond Mhlaba's memoirs as he related them to a historian in 2001. They will be able to think about the value of oral history and how it provides new insights into events.

Lesson plan
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Archive and Artwork Photo Gallery
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