Why have we have forgotten the importance of the 02 June 1972 in our struggle
freedom. And, why do we only remember 16 June 1976 through the words of
Youth have always been at the centre of modern revolutions just as they have
always been sacrificed by ruling class in wars across the world. Oppressive
regimes and their policies have often been overcome through mass unarmed
resistance including symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political non-
cooperation. Government forces met this mobilisatiion with fierce violence, arrests,
detention, torture and even disappearances of high school and university students in
Central and Latin-America during the 1970s and 80s.
The Arab Revolutions led by youth mobilised millions of people across the Middle-
East and North Africa toppling of tyrannical dictators. Palestinian youth joined by
Israeli comrades resist Occupation and Apartheid daily in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories. Chilean youth have creatively mobilised on an impressive scale.. Now
students in Montreal continuing to pursue their goals through active non-violent
struggle met by police brutality and a state of emergecy.
South Africa has a rich history of youth and student rebellion dating back to the
1930s with hunger-strikes at schools and universities. After the crushing of liberation
movements in the early 1960s, students and youth led by people such as Steve
Biko, Mamphela Ramphele, Abraham Tiro, Geoff Budlender, Cheryl Carolus, Sheila
Lapinsky and Paula Ensor. Few people know this history. Almost every young
person who wants to rebuild our country, continent and the world desiring this
knowledge will build their future struggles on the example of their parents and grand-
We know and learn a little about the leadership and struggles of Black African youth
however we know almost nothing of White, Black Coloured and Indian youth and
students struggles. All of us have a duty to research and search for this history
The Apartheid government responded to youth in the same brutal way used by
oppressive governments today; though state sanctioned violence. They murdered
Abraham Tiro, Rick Turner, Steve Biko and Neil Aggett in their jails. Hector
Pietersen, Bernard Fortuin and hundreds of others were mowed down in 1976 and
the 1980s by apartheid security forces.
Racist and oppressive laws tallowed allowed the state to ‘legally’ crush resistance
through the police and the army. Every June, people in South Africa celebrate
iYouth Month in a democratic South Africa. This “celebration” mainly by political
leaders has occluded, it has deliberately hidden, our youth and student history with
myths, some truths and fairy tales. In Peoples’ Law Journal, Ndifuna Ukwazi today
remembers the White students who mobilised thousands forty years ago on 02 June
1972. Legal judgments are most often boring but the facts hidden in them are a vital
part of our history.
‘The State versus Turrell and others’ (1972) is a landmark with Prime Minister BJ
Vorster attempting to convict 14 students and 2 clergymen protesting for their right to
peaceful protest outside St George’s Cathedral on Wale Street in Cape Town. The
students were members of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS)
initially a mainly White liberal student organisation that became radicalised and
helped build the workers’ movement, a movement that culminated in the founding of
Vorster feared the actions of NUSAS, largely due to the effectiveness of student
protests in the United State and Europe. The students were attempting to gain
international attention on the injustices of apartheid which was beginning to face
serious opposition from abroad. His other fear was the spread of communism,
known as the ‘Rooi Gevaar’ as many of the NUSAS students were illegally spreading
communist and socialist literature.
Vorster orchestrated a campaign against the students with police forces disrupting
their protests, intimidating students as well attempting to infiltrate NUSAS with spies.
The latter often arose from police blackmailing students with criminal records with
exposure if they did not cooperate, promising to clear their record if they did. Craig
Williamson, the apartheid spy who sent the parcel bombs that killed Ruth First and
Jeanette Schoon infiltrated NUSAS and later the ANC. Students conversations
were recorded, their letters opened and in some cases their passports were even
confiscated. The ultimate action of the state was to eventually ban all the NUSAS
student leaders after they started trying to mobilise workers through the stimulation
The build up to the Turrell case saw the NUSAS students protesting for equal
education after the expulsion of various black students from Universities who had
criticised the racist ‘Bantu education system’. Police violently broke up a protest
at UCT with batons and teargas. NUSAS was not cowed and torganised a protest
against police brutality in the centre of Cape Town on the corner of Wale and
Adderley Streets next to parliament on the steps of St George’s Catherdral.
Ironically but predictably the state responded to the protest with extreme police
violence. It used the despotic ‘Riotous Assemblies Act’ of 1956 to attempt to convict
the arrested protesters, but in court they hardly got the outcome they were hoping
for. Now Patrick Harris, a student at the protest now a professor, said he was beaten
with plastic batons as well as two women next him. Former NUSAS executive
member and student Paula Ensor now Dean of Humanities at UCT, described police
coming into the church from behind the altar to viciously beat students reven a
pregnant woman was thrown to the ground.
The Riotous Assemblies Act made it an offense for more than 12 people to assemble
in contravention of a notice declaring a gathering unlawful by the magistrate. This
effectively allowed any anti-apartheid gatherings to be prohibited and allow the police
to use brute force to disperse them and this was what the prosecutors based their
In court however, Acting Judge-President found that the chief magistrate had
exceeded his powers as he attempted to ban all public gathering on that day
whereas the Act only authorised him to prohibit a clearly identified and particular
gathering. The magistrate’s notice failed to indicate with reasonable certainty
which gathering it purported to prohibit. He further did not promulgate the notice
in accordance with the provisions of the Riotous Assemblies Act that demanded
sufficient public dispersal.
The court also found that the accused had committed no offence as the Riotous
Assemblies Act demands that the acting police officer repeat the order to disperse
on three occasions and to warn those assembled that force would be used should
they fail to comply with such order. The officer failed to do so and so the charge fell
away as it was a requisite for the commission of the offence. The appellants won on
all their cases of appeal.
The extreme hatred and violence of the police, while ignored during the trial, was
certainly not ignored in the press. For the first time the white-middle class was
exposed to the brutal tactics of the police that had previously been only been used
against black protestors. This was used against themselves and their children.
Condemnation arose from almost many sectors, even by some members of the
Nationalist Party, but predictably Vorster responded to the incident by saying he
was proud of his police and sounded out a warning to English speaking Universities.
The protest lead to internal pressure on the police whose actions were more closely
monitored and who lost much public sympathy, particularly in Cape Town.
While NUSAS was crippled for a time after the banning of their leaders, the bans
landed up backfiring for the state by only further invigorating student protests during
the 70s. Radicalised by Steve Biko, Strini Moodley and others of the South African
Students Organisation (SASO) which split from NUSAS, White students played a
significant role in the liberation movement During this period they embarked on many
campaigns including the “Free Political Prisoners” campaign in 1974 and one of
attempting to get international boycotts of Apartheid South Africa. NUSAS also join
forces with mass anti-apartheid groups such as the UDF in the 1980’s and joined
Azanian Students Organisation (AZASO) formed after SASO was banned in 1991 to
form the current student group South African Students Congress (SASCO). A major
contribution to our liberation movement was the creation of student newspapers such
as SASPU, journals such as Work in Progress and political literature often banned
for public use but allowed for use by academics.
Ndifuna Ukwazi pays tribute to the students of 02 June 1972 and their legacy.
(Bruce Baigrie is a research assistant at Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) and Zackie Achmat
now NU’s director was a high school student who became a political activist during
the Soweto 1976 student revolt. Ndifuna Ukwazi is dedicated to the building of
youth leaders based on knowledge and understanding of politics, law, society and
by Bruce Baigrie and Zackie AchmatTags: Articles, BJ Vorster, featured, NUSAS, Riotous Assemblies Act