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November 29, 2023
Early on the morning of October 19, 1977, as South Africa struggled to recover from a round of student uprisings and brutal repression: History Thesis, Rhodes university, South Africa
Early on the morning of October 19, 1977, as South Africa struggled to recover from a round of student uprisings and brutal repression, police came for Aggrey Klaaste at his home in Meadowlands, Soweto. He was with his mother, about to go to work. They bundled him into one of the two waiting cars and took him to jail where he spent about half a year. It was a traumatic experience for a man who had never been arrested before. His sin? Being part of the Committee of Ten, a civic body that had been formed to fill the vacuum that came into being after the total collapse of apartheid structures in the anarchic township.
Klaaste’s arrest was part of a larger crackdown that included the arrest of thousands of anti-government activists and the banning of the newspaper Klaaste worked for The World. Among the “crimes” that led to The World’s demise was reporting loudly and angrily on the murder of Steve Biko, beaten to death in police detention a month earlier. The arrest frightened Klaaste, who was never overtly political but abhorred of any
form of oppression. It marked him for life, giving him a taste of what the minority regime in Pretoria was capable of and shaping the thinking that helped him formulate a concept of nation-building that eventually became his great contribution to South Africa. Launched in l988, nation-building was informed by a lifetime of trauma. Klaaste lived through the convulsive events of Sharpeville in 1960. He reported on the Soweto Uprising of 1976 and the Vaal Uprising of l984-1987.
By 1988, he was convinced that another cataclysmic outbreak of violence was inevitable and that this time, it might be unstoppable. White politics seemed to be drifting further and further to the right, and black communities had been torn to pieces by years of internecine and anti-apartheid violence. It was time, he thought, to start working on a society that would be created once freedom came. That meant rebuilding collapsed structures in the black community, instilling values of self-pride and striving for racial cooperation. He exhorted his black community to rediscover Ubuntu.
In an atmosphere where the young lions exerted power through a box of matches, Klaaste’s thinking was totally unconventional – perhaps even dangerous, given that it deviated from received wisdom of waging the struggle right down to the last man standing. Klaaste knew that such an approach was foolhardy. The state was too powerful. A fight to the finish would turn the country into a wasteland. And black communities were already torn and broken, and in desperate need of healing.
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