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The way we lived. 38. (Part 1) My time at a Revolutionary High School – Livingstone 1960-1964.

Updated: May 30, 2023

My alma mater, Livingstone High School (LHS), certainly qualified in the true sense of being revolutionary by having one of the highest rates of teachers banned, exiled and imprisoned compared with most other schools in South Africa.
Not all students loved their schools, but I certainly did. After my primary schooling at All Saints School in Lansdowne and Clareinch School in Claremont, I attended LHS from 1960 to 1964.
My LHS era preceded the start of Black Power/Black Consciousness Movement. Starting with the 1960 Sharpeville police slaughter of dozens of unarmed protesters, my time was a period of the awakening of the oppressed majority. It led to the student revolt of 1976 which followed the Soweto butchery of over one hundred protesting school kids. Steve Biko, leader of the BCM, paid the ultimate price when killed by security police torture in 1977. Biko’s best quote for me somewhat encompasses Black Consciousness when he responded to the magistrate who said Biko was not black but brown. Biko’s reply was precious – “But Sir, you are pink, not white!” His was another brilliant mind taken from us too soon by police brutality, which accounted for at least 73 political detainee deaths from 1963 to 1990.
At LHS I enjoyed my sports – soccer, then later rugby; cricket; athletics and sports day – “Go Red House”; gymnastics even though I could not somersault – the Arab spring was my favourite under Mr Eric Williams’ tuition. In standard nine (form eleven), I fell in love for the first time and went to parties while learning to twist to Chubby Checker and the Beatles, and we danced the blues, Cape Town style, up close with the lights down low. I must confess that what happened on the dance floor did not always stay there!
The ultimate LHS experience was learning from such a brilliant set of dedicated teachers who excelled at their profession. I hate saying this, but the students of our time benefited from the limited university opportunities for Blacks, resulting in teaching as the primary profession the brightest Black students could take up. Many aspirant doctors, lawyers or engineers turned to the noble profession instead.

I have previously blogged about our teachers as our heroes AND mentors. Most LHS teachers were politicised and were members of the Teacher’s League of South Africa and the Unity Movement (the old Non-European Unity Movement, present-day New Unity Movement). For years the UM provided the vanguard of resistance to apartheid In the Western Cape. The photo alongside is a roll call of the TLSA officials of 1953. (Thanks to Russell Dudley for the copy. The asterisk is against my father’s name.)
Many will note how I often do not use “Mr” when referring to our male teachers. There’s no disrespect intended, for this is the way we referred to them – mainly with a sense of admiration, awe and fondness. Nicknames were plentiful – Duds or RO for Mr Dudley, Charlie Bok for Mr Arendse; GL for Mr Abrahams; Butty Borsbroek for Mr Butler: Hoender for Mr Grammer; Rotjie for Mr Reed … I do not know if my Dad had one, maybe just Alie? Others can fill me in here. The maternal Mrs Lewis was the only female teacher in my time.

Notable events in 1960 – my year in Standard 6 (form 8).
February 1960 British PM Harold Macmillan’s “winds of change” speech to the South African Parliament in Cape Town. After a month in Africa visiting British colonies, he saw the changing of the times in Africa as countries broke free from the yoke of European colonialism.
March 1960 Sharpeville and Langa massacres, with the Langa march to Cape Town a week later.
Strikes and stay-aways result in South Africa’s first State of Emergency with draconian laws to control the rebellious populace. Over 18,000 arrested by May 1960. UN condemns South Africa.
This is a lunch-break photo of my Dad, Alie Fataar, and myself in 1960. Unlike me, Dad, the son of an illiterate tailor and a literate mother(Standard 6 level), was a dapper dresser. (Having said that, I’ve changed a bit over the years!)

My political awakening started at home with a vague idea of my father’s work in the NEUM and the TLSA. Alie Fataar, a teacher of English to senior students, was the general secretary of the TLSA. He edited their Torch magazine, which I delivered to teachers at the Clareinch Primary School, a prefab unit of classes across the road from LHS. Dad printed off reams of political flyers and leaflets on his old Gestetner printer. I often had to staple the printed sheets to each other and deliver notices of pending meetings to our neighbourhood houses in Dale Street, Lansdowne. (See my earlier blog on My Street of Destiny).
At LHS, my political awareness grew as the years of Nationalist Party power abuse impacted families, friends, and teachers in different ways. Despite many mealtimes with my Dad holding forth politically, I was too young to take in most of his comments. Those were the early days of apartheid following the 1948 National Party victory – a year after I was born. Living in such a restrictive environment, I never got used to the graffiti of apartheid signs which became the scourge of our daily lives. My favourite place was upstairs on a bus – besides the better view of Cape Town’s majestic mountains, it was a rare public space without dehumanising separatist signs. The other place was up my favourite mountain – Cape Town’s emblematic Table Mountain.

I was in Willy Ward’s standard 6 class during the Langa march of 30.3.1960. It alerted me for the first time to the problems in the formative years of activist resistance to rid the country of apartheid – regarded as social engineering gone disastrously wrong.
The ANC, our biggest freedom fighting organisation from the 1920s, became more active with nonviolent protests, including the 1952 Defiance Campaign against the Pass laws. In amongst a slew of oppressive laws, this law was the most detested by the indigenous majority people in the country. In 1959 the more radical PAC formed as a breakaway party from the ANC.

The PAC’s charismatic leader, Robert Sobukwe, called for a country-wide peaceful protest against the Pass laws for March 21, 1960. This resulted in the Sharpeville massacre, in which 60+ people died in withering police gunfire during a peaceful anti-pass protest in the north of the country. Four people also died from police shooting outside the Langa police station in Cape Town on the same day when they presented themselves for arrest for not carrying their dompases – the much-hated stupid pass.

This photograph of the slain is a stark reminder of the fateful day at Sharpeville, with many dead martyrs shot in the back while fleeing. The event started the revolution, which led to apartheid’s denouement in 1994.
My recollection of the time was of shock and uncertainty. I knew it was a tragic event, but what was really going on? My twelve-year-old brain was awhirl with these events. I do not recall the dinner table conversations at the time with my Dad, nor do I remember any talks by LHS teachers – possibly lost in the mists of time. Did our politicised teachers comment about the events? Maybe the other older students of my generation could bring this chapter back to life for me.
The Langa march, also called by the PAC, took place barely a week later. Imagine the bravery of the tens of thousands who gathered in Langa to march along the still-being-built Settler’s Way to reach De Waal drive via Hospital corner, to then snake their way around the mountain base into Cape Town. The shootings a week earlier would have been on their minds much of the time.

So where was I on the day? I was in one of the LHS school buses on its way to the annual school sports day still held in Goodwood at the time. It was the first time I saw such a massive crowd as they headed towards the city. We had an inkling of what it was about as we returned the many Black Power salutes from the marchers as we cheered through bus windows and from the old platforms at the back of the double-decker bus as it inched its way past the marchers. Black Power salutes were not fashionable then – their true significance lost to many of us. Still, we appreciated the sense of solidarity they represented as we fisted our returns to them.

Shouldered by his supporters, Phillip Kgosana was the 22-year-old PAC UCT economics student leader in short pants who led the marchers into the city. Fortunately, no one was killed around Caledon Square police HQ with tens of thousands of people close to hundreds of heavily armed police with several British-made Saracen armoured vehicles lining the packed city streets.
The duplicitous police promised Kgosana a meeting with the Minister of Justice, but after he had dispersed the crowd, the police promptly arrested him. He eventually skipped the country to live in exile in Ethiopia. From Hospital Bend to Roeland Street, De Waal Drive is now named Philip Kgosana Drive.
During the ensuing national State of Emergency, tens of thousands were arrested for pass offences around the country, and the ANC & PAC were banned. Such was the start of insurrection during my first year at LHS. Later, the 1976 mass killings of dozens of protesting students in Soweto started the student-led revolution, which was to dump apartheid in the dustbin of history in 1994.
A shortened version of this blog will soon be available on the Livingstone High School Alumni Association on Facebook.
(My further recollections of 1961-1964 will follow later.)


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