The South African Students Organisation

Soweto school children protest against Afrikaans in 1976

Soweto school children protest against Afrikaans in 1976

The political student activity that has been very much a part of the South African landscape for the past year is in some ways reminiscent of protest action seen some forty-plus years ago when members of the National Union of South African Students broke away to form the South African Student Organisation (SASO). Just as the Fees Must Fall movement is viewed by many to be radical, so were the views of SASO members during the 1960s, who in line with the ideology of the Black Consciousness Movement, believed that there was a need to form an exclusively black student organisation to fight for racial equality in educational spheres and beyond. Initially outwardly relatively conservative, for fear of alienating members, SASO gained confidence as their numbers grew, and became more and more outspoken, encouraging black students to act according to their own free will. The 1970s saw SASO introduce community-cum-political projects aimed specifically at black schools with the idea of producing a new breed of youth leaders, ready to confront the challenges faced by African people.

Most importantly the 1970s was a period when the organisation began to define itself as a powerful force opposing the state and Apartheid. In recognition of their growing strength eight SASO leaders were issued with banning orders in 1973, just three years before the devastation of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, which saw thousands of children march in protest to the introduction of Afrikaans as a compulsory medium of instruction in schools. It is reported that close to 200 children were killed by police on that day.

Just over a year later Steve Biko, the founder of SASO was killed whilst in police custody, and close to one month later, on the 19th October 1977, SASO was officially banned.

Images courtesy of theconversation.com and sahistory.org

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