OPINION: 45 years after the June 16 uprisings, Dr TT Cholo continues to inspire


Humanity's history instructs that there are those watershed moments that constitute defining chapters in the life of nations.

The month of June, has, from 45 years ago in South Africa, come to symbolise such a unique historic chapter.

From the morning of the 16 June 1976, the country was on social flames and was never to be the same again. Students and youth from across the length and breadth of the country rose up in their multitudes, to dare the brutality and might of the obnoxious apartheid regime.

A regime that was, because of its brutality against unarmed young people, aptly characterised by the United Nations as a crime against humanity.

The youth has and continues to occupy a special place in the heart of one of the greatest uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadres and political commissars, who is turning 95 years on 25 October 2021.

Dr Tlou Theophilus Cholo, popularly known as Ntate Cholo or TT Cholo, is a struggle stalwart of the African National Congress (ANC); a devoted champion of the struggle for the emancipation of the workers, the youth and women and a prolific writer.

As the country rreflects on the events of June 1976, so also must stalwarts who championed their course steadfastly even long before, be part of the national psyche, memory and endeavours to place the youth right into the centre of the social, political and economic fabric.

Youth Month provides a unique opportunity to dissect, both the direct and indirect roles that were played by living heroes and legends such as Dr. TT Cholo in shaping the character and audacity of the youth of June 1976.

Thousands of them, including the author, inspired by the likes Dr TT Cholo, the late Chris Hani, the late Ambassador and Minister of Social Development, Dr ZST Skweyiya, Major General (Rtd) Zolile Ngqose, to mention but a few; even had to leave behind, at their tender ages, their beloved families and the country to swell the ranks of the African National Congress and its military wing uMkhonto we Sizwe ( MK), in exile.

The youth that joined MK in June 1976 became the second Detachment after the Luthuli Detachment. It completed its intensive politico-military training by the in late November 1977, at a camp South of Angola, called Nova Katenge.

The late President of the ANC and Commander in Chief of MK, Oliver Reginald "OR" Tambo named that detachment the "June 16 Detachment." This in honour and recognition of those students and youth who with only dustbin lids, stones, dared the might of the then Apartheid regime on 16 June 1976.

That massive political upheaval was later to prove to be in real essence, a manifestation of the cumulative expression of rage against the centuries-old colonial and Apartheid subjugation of the African

From Soweto to Gugulethu; from KwaMashu to Mamelodi , in all corners if the land, the social, political and economic landscape and trajectory of the country changed fundamentally. Henceforth the path to freedom became unstoppable and inevitable.

As the country reflects and commemorates 45 years of this monumental milestone, a critical question arises

What are the lessons to be drawn for the youth today?

Whilst the historic mission of the youth of 1976 was to dislodge all the vestiges of Apartheid colonialism, the youth of today is faced with mammoth challenges and tasks.

These include:

  • Leading the fight to defeat the rampant COVID-19 pandemic which has afflicted no less than 1,7million people, ( albeit more than 15million were able to recover.

It has killed almost 60 000 people within a space of less than a year and continues to threaten the very existence of the nation.

Other scourges confronting the youth of today are:

  • The high levels of poverty afflicting to millions of people and mostly the African majority.;

  • The highest level of socio -evomic inequality in the world;

  • Over 72% of the country's estimated 17million peole who are unemployed being the youth between the ages of 15 to 35 years.

  • The escalating scourge of gender based violence.

  • Rampant crime and corruption

Therein lies the significance the youth of today to draw inspiration from the likes of Dr TT Cholo in helping overcome the social, political and economic complex challenges facing the country today

Ntate Cholo, Waga Matlala clan in Limpopo , will be turning 95 years on 25th October, 2021. He is a living epitome of a huge reservoir of abundant knowledge, experience and expertise capable of assisting today's youth to navigate through these immense challenges.

His decades-long dedication to fight against all forms of colonial and racist apartheid injustices, oppression and inequality, :provides today's youth with the necessary will, resilience and endurance against all odds.

His life and times are a symbol of courageous resistance against colonialism and Apartheid brutality.

Be it on how to endure several detentions and brutal torture; nine years of exile and 16 years of incarceration in Section B cell on Robben Island yet continue to stand unflinched.

He shared the same prison cell with the likes of the late Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Herman Toivo ja Toivo of Namibia, to mention but a few.

  • His invaluable organising and uniting skills, helped in building the ANC; the workers movement, women and youth formations from the 1950's to today. If all these could be honed well, such skills could serve a solidifying force for the young people.

  • His invaluable efforts to constantly develop social consciousness and patriotism remains a potent force. It could indeed go a long way in further enhancing the national efforts to achieve social cohesion and nation building.

  • His selfless preparedness to share knowledge voluntarily, has become an invincible weapon to help unleash the much-needed creativity and energy that the youth exudes.

  • His deeply rooted hatred against all forms of malfeasance can contribute in finding lasting solutions to uprooting crime rampant and corruption across the societal spectrum

  • His distinguished role as a public servant post April 1994 could give impetus in advancing the fundamental transformation of state; in growing an inclusive economy, as well as eradicating racial inequalities.

"Political education and infusion of patriotism amongst the youth are very important ingredients for building a prosperous nation. Youth are future leaders of the country" Dr. TT Cholo always emphasises.

His illustrious international experiences gathered in Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania ,China, the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics over the exile years, would indeed also come in handy in assisting the youth to connect meaningfully with progressive humanity the world over.

Suffice to say, international experiences constitute a critical developmental imperative in benchmarking and exchanging best practices aimed at realising the cherished goal of a better Africa and a better world for all.

An initiative led by the former TNT alumni activists , the Department of Military Veterans, the Freedom Park, the Association of Ex Political Prisoners and the African National Congress is underway to celebrate his sterling role in the liberation struggle and the reconstruction and development of the country.

On June 27 2021, the inaugural Dr. TT Cholo legacy lecture is planned by the partners to be held at Freedom Park.

Plans are also afoot to lobby for the renaming of the R80 Gauteng provincial highway in Tshwane after his name.

Advocacy is also underway for him to be bestowed with the highest ANC honour , Isithwalandwe/ Seaparankoe

Youth Month therefore, offers a unique opportunity for the youth to emulate Dr. TT Cholo by joining these noble initiatives.

A Russian author Nikolai Ostrovsky, in his book entitled "How the steel was tempered" wrote, " "Man's dearest possesion is life. It is given to him but once. Let him llive so as to feel no torturing regrets for the mean and petty past. Let him live so that when dying he might say, all my life and all my strength, were given to the finest course; the fight for the liberation of mankind*

Dr. TT Cholo, even in his unassuming, humble and polite demeanour belongs to that special category and league that the youth of today and that of tomorrow ought to emulate.

Mbulelo Musi is a former uMkhonto we Sizwe June 16 Detachment Member.

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