What led to Tiro’s expulsion

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What led to the expulsion of Onkgopotse Tiro from the University?

Onkgopotse Tiro was expelled from the University simply because he strongly criticised Bantu Education Act of 1953 during his 1972 graduation speech known as Turfloop Testimony.

Mokoena served with Onkgopotse Tiro in the 1972 SRC at the then University of the North. He is currently ANC Member of Parliament in the National Assembly in Cape Town).

Usually every year during graduation ceremony it was customary that   students will elect somebody of their own to speak on their behalf after the degrees have been conferred. Students who were going to graduate in that year of 1972 elected Onkgopotse Tiro to represent them.

With delight, Tiro after being chosen to speak at the graduations said: “Mokoena” that’s how he used to call me. He explained that “they have elected me”. He tried to discuss his speech with me and I said No No No, I don’t want to undermine your intelligence because I know you are a very capable leader, go and speak your mind you know that we support you.

 The Saturday of 29th of April 1972, the actual graduation ceremony came and proceeded. It climaxed off as Tiro ascended the podium and delivered a very impatient and fiery speech which is now the subject of history. The crux of his speech was when Tiro said:  “There is virtually and actually nothing to thank the Bantu Education for I have been asked to come and thank you, but there is nothing to thank you for because our parents are not even in the hall. Most of them are standing outside and other people basically the relatives of the lecturers who are predominantly white are here enjoying the activities of the graduation ceremony. The Bantu system is very poisoners and we are not really impressed with it and the day of liberation is going to come and when that day comes not even the military might of this country is going to stop it”.

I did not believe what I heard when Tiro said so in a very gutsy tone that came from his soul, the inner most. One could have forgotten everything else he said but when he uttered the above words and I looked at him it was as thou he was speaking prophetically that liberation was going to come and does not matter what could stand on its way. Off course at the end of the speech he came down from the pulpit and that was the end of the graduation and people went out of the hall and the white lecturers and the University management were red and fulminating while students were in jubilation.  

On Monday morning we were told that there would be a disciplinary hearing. As SRC we were supposed to be part of it and we sent three of our members to sit on the hearing only to find out that we were excluded. I suppose that the administration of the University thought that we would dilute their strategy of dealing harshly with Tiro. It was 14h00 when one of the University’s workers told us that he has just dropped Tiro off in Pretoria Station and that he was given a ticket to go back home to Zeerust. Meaning he has been expelled. 

At 16h00 we called for an SRC meeting and later called for a mass meeting. The Great Hall (now called Onkgopotse Tiro Hall) was packed to the ceiling. At that year we had the enrolment of 1146 students minus Tiro we were 1145, we actually counted the students there and explained to them what had happened. The students used the opportunity to vent out their emotions and we took a resolution to draft a memorandum during that meeting and we then read it to the students and they endorsed it. The following morning at 08h00 we went to the administration block chanting as we arranged the students to march in a very orderly fashion. In order to show our numerical strength we said that we must be in groups of 4, 4, 4, 4.  Can you imagine what 1145 students in those groups will look like? It was a very long column of students they marched and approached the administration block we were stopped by the Administration Clerk. He stopped us and said by instruction from the Rector Professor Boshoff you are instructed to halt.  We replied that we are not going to halt and we proceeded right up to march he gave us a way and we proceeded right up to the door of the administration block. We said here is the memorandum which is self-explanatory and we demand the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Onkgopotse Abram Tiro.

After handing over the memorandum we chanted Nkosi Sikelel´ iAfrika. I had never in my life heard the national anthem chanted so solemnly with such dignity, it had depth of spirit and people were crying and we then returned to the Great Hall and kept our selves busy with music and it was Black Consciousness music of that time.

Despite several mass meetings held demanding for Tiro’s readmission at the University, our demands were never met; instead it led to a closure of the University.


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