1967/360: An exhibition curated by Nkululeko Mbandla and Paul Weinberg at the Centre for African Studies (CAS) gallery, UCT.

A review by Heinrich Groenewald 

 

June 16, 2016 marked the fourty year anniversary of the Soweto student uprising – a pinnacle event in 1976, which has become a watershed year for South African and African history. In reflection on such mass youth mobilisation, and appropriately so in the afterwave of the great #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall uprisings, the Centre for African Studies (CAS) gallery is hosting the exhibition 1976/360.

A most poignent reminder of how the Soweto student uprising still informs liberation narratives is through the iconic imagery that was taken on June 16, 1976. These images document a moment in our country’s history when the youth of Soweto courageously defied ‘Bantu Education’ and the Apartheid system itself.

Through carefully dissecting some major South African photographic archives 1976/360 has brought together an extroadinary account of photographs that document that cataclysmic day, as well as the powerful waves of resistance that spread through the entire country thereafter.

Upon entering the exhibition you are met with Sam Nzima’s iconic image juxtaposed to its inverted colouring of 13-year old Hector Pieterse being carried by another student as Hector’s sister runs along, completely horrified by her brother’s death.

The curation of the gallery then guides the viewer to a series of images portraying the horros of that day. As police vehicles are burned, militant police formations are set, and students flee in frantic chaos, you might consider the eery reality that just a few hours before, Primary and High school students were cheerfully marching the streets of Soweto; possibly all too happy to be spending the day outside the classroom.

A poem by Ubgoapele Madingoane intersects your journey and echoes the words: “In Africa my beginning, and Africa my ending.” Almost perfectly attuned to Madingoane’s words, are two photographs standing in opposition on either side of the room. One by Dr. Peter Magubane is of the words “Black Power” painted on the side of a house. The other, by Stan Winer, sees three girls walking past a similar mural that reads “Born to suffer.”

In the centre of the room is an image of a painful encounter. A white police officer, draped in weaponry and a gas mask drags the wounded, unclothed body of a black man across the street. Framing this image are two scrolls detailing an endless list of the lives lost during the 1976 uprisings.

As one moves around the room, one begins encountering a wider impression of the uprisings. Resistant activism spread throughout the nation like wildfire. Photographs sourced from The Independent newspaper archive show occupations in Cape Town, but with some resembling an image perhaps less typical of the scenes one has come accustomed to when thinking about the interaction between police and protesters: A photograph from the Cape Times, 27 August 1976, shows two black women (in full 70’s attire – check afro, hoop earrings and high waisted bellbottoms) joyfully disrupting traffic outside the Trust Bank building in Cape Town. The caption reads: “We will die with our Black brothers” – before they jolted off in a taxi.

Throughout the exhibition monitor-installations fill the room with the voices of those who shared their memories of the 1976 uprisings. Appropriate to the gallery’s context (as part of the University of Cape Town) a video is dedicated to the voices of UCT staff reflecting on 1976. Artworks from the university’s collection that speak directly to the Soweto Student uprising are also included. Among others we see the works of Willie Bester, David Goldblatt and Keresemose Richard Baholo. Bringing the show to a full 360 are four photographs by Paul Weinberg from his visit to the Hector Pieterse memorial museum, taken in 2016.

The opening of 1976/360 was very well received with the formidable Soweto student activist, Murphy Morobe addressing an audience that breached any single age or cultural representation. That night also saw the launch of veteran photographer, Peter Magubane’s, book, 16 June Soweto. He too addressed the audience, reminding us of the immense risk journalists had to take in those strife-ridden unstable days; and stating that “a revolution is not a revolution if it is not documented.”

 

1976/360 was curated by Nkululeko Mbandla and Paul Wineberg and will be on show at the Centre for African Studies (CAS) gallery at UCT Upper Campus from June 15th to August 16th 2016.