Student leader honoured in Soweto artwork

First Published in the Sunday Times on June 18, 2006

By Ndivhuho Mafela

The Sunday Times Centenary Heritage Project artwork honouring June 16 student leader Tsietsi Mashinini was unveiled in Soweto on the 16th June 2006.

The artwork, which bears pictures of the student leader and of the placards that were carried by students on that fateful day in 1976, was designed by London-based, former Soweto artist Johannes Phokela.

The unveiling formed part of a series of events marking the 30th anniversary of the student uprising. The artwork was installed at a park that was renamed June 16 Memorial Acre, in White City Jabavu. The park is opposite Morris Isaacson High School, near the starting point of a march by Soweto pupils to protest against the use of Afrikaans for teaching.

Phokela created a large, freestanding sculpture of an open schoolbook showing images from June 16, 1976, as well as the route through Soweto. The photographic montage is on ceramic tiles separated by blue grouting to signify the lines of a school exercise book. It stands on a podium, which can be used for other projects, such as poetry sessions.

Included in the artwork is a photograph of Mashinini and other students.

Mashinini was a charismatic teenager who went on to become a political hero.

After he led the march on June 16, Mashinini was forced into hiding, and, two months later, went into exile in Botswana and Nigeria. He married a Liberian beauty queen, Welma Redd, and was fêted by international anti-apartheid activists such as Vanessa Redgrave and African-American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.

He died in 1990 while staying at the Guinea home of singer Miriam Makeba. His body was brought back to South Africa and buried at Avalon Cemetery. Unveiling the artwork, Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya urged today's youth to continue to demand a better life for themselves, and to engage in a new struggle to end poverty and unemployment.
Mbeki and hundreds of Sowetans stopped to observe a moment of silence at Mofolo bridge... At that point ANC luminary Winnie Madikizela-Mandela joined the march.

"We are here to say thank you to the '76 veterans and the leaders who led the uprisings," he said. He thanked Mashinini 's mother, Nomkhitha Mashinini, "for raising such a brave young man". The unveiling was preceded by the renaming of the park by the then Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo and Mashinini's mother.

She was accompanied by her late son's wife, Welma Mashinini-Redd, her three daughters - Katherine, Nomkhitha and Tembi - and June 16 Foundation representative Sibongile Mkhabela. Among the dignitaries who attended the unveiling were the then Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, then Education Minister Naledi Pandor, Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana, and Youth Commission chairman Jabu Mbalula.

Former president Thabo Mbeki arrived towards the conclusion of the formal programme to lead a march from the school to the Hector Pieterson Memorial. He was accompanied by then Minister in the Office of the President Essop Pahad, former Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan and former Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa.

Halfway to its destination, the march came to a halt as Mbeki and hundreds of Sowetans who had joined him stopped to observe a moment of silence at Mofolo bridge, the spot where Mashinini is said to have addressed thousands of pupils on June 16, 1976. At that point, ANC luminary Winnie Madikizela-Mandela joined the march. When the march arrived at the Hector Pieterson Memorial, Mbeki laid a wreath.

back to the Tsietsi Mashinini memorial page

"I, Tsietsi Mashinini, appeal to students to report back to school."
Tsietsi Mashinini, 1976
Picture © British Thames Television


In this lesson plan, learners are asked to think about how the different people in their lives would describe them. They are asked to reflect if they think that their caregiver or teacher would say the same things about them as their best friend. They will apply their insights on differing perspectives to historical sources such as newspapers and letters.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
Images from the short life of Tsietsi Mashinini.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Five views of the Tsietsi Mashinini memorial
The concept for the memorial
Johannes Phokela discusses the development of his concept for the memorial to Tsietsi Mashinini
Take a 360º tour of Mashinini's memorial opposite his former high school on Mputhi Street, Soweto.
Audio Slideshow