I was a student at university in South Africa in the late 80s. Ihave recentlyhad cause to remember some of the political stuff going on at the time

this is one of the stories:

In that time the students at Wits were giving the government a bit of a headache. We were largely a white student body so opening fire on us and actually killing any of us was not really a plan. I like to think a lesson had been learnt by 1976 but I doubt that was why we were tolerated. But tolerated only just. We got shambokked and chased about and threatened with removal of funding. And still we protested and shouted and screamed.


My mom was a lecturer at Wits at the time and one eventful day a large portion of the academic staff come out in support of the students. These ‘grown ups’ all donned their graduation gowns and settled, like crows, on the steps outside Wits great hall. It was very moving actually – these people were risking their jobs and futures to support the voice of the students. We had less to lose so in some ways it was easier for us to protest. (Perhaps that is why students are historically the politically noisy.)

The sight of all of these black clad people standing silently, arms linked on the majestic steps on the Wits campus while around them students ran, chased by dogs and shambok wielding cops in riot gear is one I will always remember.


And then the wheels fell off. The cops started shooting rubber bullets at the staff. And not at the ground to bounce up and hurt, like rubber bullets are supposed to be used, but right at people. My mom got whacked on the hip and had a bruise for weeks. (For the record, rubber bullets are big and really hard – not soft spongy things like you might imagine)


The lecturers and some students, my mom and I included, ran into the great hall foyer area and closed the doors. The cops shot tear gas into through the glass on the doors and we were somewhat trapped. Not really trapped cos there are many exits, but trapped in the reach of the tear gas. My mom and I ran down a corridor, coughing and weeping from the gas.

I had been here before and knew that inhaling smoke helped reduce the burn. So there my mom and I were, she in her graduation gown, me probably in some terrible 80s outfit, scared and angry, pulling the posters off the walls of the university and setting light to them, our faces over the smoke, inhaling deeply between racking coughs. Eventually we had a bunch of people doing it alongside us, relieving their own burning eyes, noses and mouths.


Some mother-child bonding moment huh!

In comparison to what the whole point was, we had it lucky really.