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Parcel of Death, The Biography of Onkgopotse Abram Tiro




PARCEL OF DEATH 

 

The Biography of Onkgopotse Abram Tiro 

 

GAONGALELWE TIRO 

 

PICADOR AFRICA 

 

ISBN 9 781770 106499 



 

For a man of his precocious gift, Onkgopotse Tiro was humble and friendly, as per the observation of one junior at university. 

He did not carry himself with the airs and graces of an SRC president. In September 1970, in only his second year at the University of the North, better known as Turfloop, Tiro was elected SRC president. 

Some remember the magnetism of his affable character. 

There’s no doubt his faith - he was a devout Seventh-Day Adventist - played a huge role in shaping his character. 

Were he alive, it is doubtful if he’d have possesed the chutzpah, not that he lacked any, to correct the revisionists who put the ANC at the centre of the exodus into exile by hordes of the 1976 generation. 

History is written by the victors, granted, but the governing ANC should concede turf and acknowledge the role played by Tiro in stoking the fires in the bellies of young activists and planting the seed for them to skip the country. 

The political parties were banned at the time and in exile. The groundwork carries the signature of Tiro and his contempraries in the Black Consciousness (BC) movement to swell the ranks in exile. 

He did himself leave for exile. On Friday, 1 February 1974, he was blown to smithereens after a parecl bomb he took delivery of and opened in Botswana went off. 

He was only 28. 

He holds the unenviable honour to have been the first South African activist pursued and killed in this manner by the Apartheid security machinery. 

But before exile, Tiro had inadvertently prepared the ground for events that culminated in the Soweto students uprising of 16 June 1976. 

Tiro mentored Tsietsi Mashinini. 

This is how he got there: 

Expelled from Turf, he faced limited or no options - until Lekgau Mathabathe, the maverick Principal at Morris Isaacson, offered him a teaching post, in History. 

Morris was the cauldron of the 1976 student revolt in Soweto, the catalyst for exile of the Black Consciosuness (BC) generation of activists. If anybody had a role in opening the eyes of the imprresionable students, it was Tiro. 

He found young minds receptive to ideas, and he touched them, impacting them profoundly. 

His students met with him after class and on weekends, eager to imbibe from the well of his wisdom and politics. 

He injected verve into the subject of History, opening the students minds to what Bantu Education hid away from public scrutiny. 

He was not new to teaching students. He’d done the same at a highre primary back home in Zeerust when he took a break in his own studies because of financial challenges. 

The Principal at the primary school arranged that he get a bursary from a teacher union to further his studies. That’s how he landed at Barolong High School in Mahikeng, where he’d later visit after he was expelled from Turfloop. 

At high school in Motswedi Secondary, Tiro was already leading a revolt. 

When he got to university, the leader in his was already formed. 

He was peers with Steve Bantu Biko, Barney Pityana, Strini Moodley and his closest ally, Harry Nengwekhulu. 

He shook Turf to the core, leading the Verwoerdian rectorship no chance but to expel him after his famous no-holds-barred graduation day speech that lampooned Apartheid practices on campus and in the country. 

He used to tell the students: “Turfloop is not only an affiliated centre of SASO, but also its strongest supporter.”

This is the SASO of Biko and Pityana et al. 

Towards the end of 1971,a  group of students from Malawi visited South Africa and landed on campus at Turf. 

Tiro did not meet them as SASO regarded Malawi President Hastinsg Kamuzu Banda a conspirator against progressive liberation forces, in bed with the Apartheid government. 

He had no kind words for Bantustan leaders like Cedric Phatudi, leader of Lebowa on whose land the University of the North stood. 

But Turfloop was too miniscule for his larger than life character. 

He put in more work outside campus. 

Now, say his workhorse assignments for SASO did not achieve much, which is unlikely, as a History teacher at Morris, Tiro was at the coalface of the bitterness against Bantu Education in particular and Apartheid in general. 

He traveled the length and breadth of the country, touching base with the likes of Jabulani Mzala Nxumalo in Bethel. 

Mzala would later pen Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda, a satire critcal of the Inkatha leader.  

Tiro worked his fingers to the bone marshalling forces on the ground. 

The ANC and PAC were in exile. They should heed Cabral and claim no easy victories. 

Dinokana, his village, Zeerust, his hometown, was the gateway to exile. Tiro’s people saw many young people across the border into exile. 

In March 1998 his body was exhumed in Botswana for reburial in Dinokana.  

The TRC did not find anyone responsible for his death, not even Craig Williamson, the super spy linked to Tiro’s assassination. 

His mother died a broken woman, taking to the grave none the wiser about her son’s killer or killers. 


 

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