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Remembering Onkgopotse Tiro: Blown To Pieces By A Parcel Bomb Sent To Him By Apartheid Regime On 1 February 1974

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Anti-Apartheid Activist and Teacher Blown Apart by A Parcel Bomb Sent By Apartheid Agents on 1 February 1974

Onkgopotse Tiro is considered to be one of the founding members of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in South Africa. Alongside such names as Steve Biko and Barney Pityana, he was instrumental in forming the BCM.

Tiro was born in Dinokana near Zeerust on 9th November 1947. He started his schooling in 1951 at the Ikalafeng Primary School. The school was closed down for a period of time as a result of strikes. He attended Naledi High School in Soweto, Johannesburg for two months but was arrested for a pass offence. He then went to Barolong High School in Mafikeng, North West Province, where he matriculated.

After completing high school, he enrolled at the University of the North (Turfloop) and he became President of the SRC in 1972 where he was to use a graduation ceremony on 29 April of that year to deliver the  now famous speech in which he denounced the apartheid system and Bantu education, and laid out the theoretical framework for the BCM.  Concluding his speech, Tiro said:

“The day shall come, when all shall be free to breathe the air of freedom which is theirs to breathe and when the day shall have come, no man, no matter how many tanks he has, will reverse the course of events.”

Authorities at the university were angered by Tiro’s outspokenness and following the speech he was expelled from the University. This sparked off a prolonged protest on the campus, influencing a number of students who later became political leaders in the country. One of his earlier encounters with the administration as SRC President was when they wanted expunged from the student diary two articles that they regarded as “objectionable”: the South African Students Organisation (SASO) Policy Manifesto and the Declaration of Students’ Rights. The administration confiscated the diaries and removed the items. On returning these to the student body, the students made a bonfire of them.

Tiro’s expulsion from Turfloop had far-reaching consequences that the university’s management could not have anticipated. In May 1972 there were a number of strikes on black campuses across the country in support of Tiro. By the beginning of June all major black campuses endorsed a solidarity strike in his support. On 2 June 1972 students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) demonstrated in support of Tiro.

After his expulsion from Turfloop, he was offered a post as a history teacher at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto, but after six months was expelled as education authorities put pressure on school principals to dismiss those who had been expelled from universities.

It was at Morris Isaacson that Tiro introduced his pupils – which included the 1976 student leader Tsietsi Mashinini – to the Black Consciousness philosophy and got them to question the validity of the history books prescribed by Bantu Education. Although his time at Morris Isaacson was short, he had laid the seeds for the 1976 uprising.

Fearing arrest, he fled to Botswana in 1973 and once there, forged links with international movements such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation. He continued his underground work for organisations such as the South African Student Movement (SASM), Saso and the Black People’s Convention (BPC).

A year later, he was killed by a parcel bomb. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s amnesty hearings, nobody came forward to claim responsibility for his murder.

He is widely considered as the first cross-border victim of the apartheid security police’s campaign of eliminating state opponents through the use of parcel bombs.

At the time of his death, Tiro was a teacher in Kgale, outside Gaborone. The letter containing explosives, delivered to Tiro by a student only known as Lawrence indicated that it was from the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF). Bureau of State Security (Boss) spy Craig Williamson worked for the IUEF and, according to the book Inside Boss by Gordon Winter, it was the Boss Z-squad that sent a letter that killed Tiro.

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5 Comments

  1. We need regular sessions or platforms to get together and learn and discuss Black Consciousness, this is the right time because we don’t know who we are and what to do with the freedom we have that our heroes like Tiro died for

    1. Onkgopotse Tiro embraced Black Consciousness as advocated by the fathers of Pan Americanism and it was not a new political concept, but it replaced the banned Africanist liberatory creed shortly after political organisations were given the red card in SA. Yes, and we may seem like we do not know what to do with the freedom but that is not entirely true. I however agree with Veli J. Mokoena since the negotiated settlement after CODESA, we were given a raw deal. A lot of compromises were made and a lot of atrocities are still unaccounted for. and our worst nightmare is that the stomach politics has changed focus of our noble course and our brothers in the ruling party are going it alone as thought they were the only organisation to take the credit for the so-called democratic dispensation……

      Communism is the highest form of Socialism and to reach SOCIALISM may take for ever……so, PAN AFRICAN ISM is therefore the highest form of BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS which has its roots in the struggle for self reliance and self determination …..this simply meant that the struggle must and should be waged by the suffering black/Africans as they were the ones at the receiving end….little knowledge of one’s history is dangerous and fortunately for some of us, we will not be fooled by those who falsify history and claim to be the owners of our struggle. What happened to TIRO should not come as a surprise because he was not the only casualty of apartheid killers but look deeper and you will realize that the invasion without provocation by whites in our mist, is a catalyst that guarantees no easy short-cuts in the struggle for total emancipation of our nation from evil imperialistic and eurocentric hatred that is responsible for the GENOCIDE in the whole continent of AFRICA…Ngoana wa dikgomo…ithute molodi mme ogopole motlha malata a ileng…..AFRICA FOR AFRICANS… AFRICA FOR HUMANITY AND HUMANITY FOR GOD!!!!!!!

  2. These are the times in history that makes us angry and bitter about our current political situation. How some people lost their lives while fighting White regime and monopoly. Long live comrade Onkgopotse Tiro. Long live!!!

    1. My leader…..Lele Nkutha…….you should be angry and bitter because it is your ancestors and mine who lay their lives so you and i should determine our future. The current political situation is as a result of the vote we gave to the ANC who still thinks they own our lives, but remember that giving them our vote and confidence did not mean that we will not give the same to some liberation organisations as and when we deem fit……it is however our task to change our mind set and look towards the real politics of the country and stop being the perpetuators and masters of our own surffering as we are equally to blame because we put them there in the first place.

    2. Whilst i am not disputing the fact that Onkgopotse was instrumental in the SOWETO uprising, i would like to point out that the chief organizer of the JUNE 16 1976 riots was Uncle Zephaniah Mothoping who, in the famous Bethal TRAIL was accused number one. It was his home in MOFOLO (Soweto) that was used as the H/Q. Remember that the PAC was burned and BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS WAS THE LANGUAGE OF THE DAY. PAN AFRICANISM is the highest form of BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS.

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