1957 baHurutshe Revolt

Start Date End Date
1957-00-00 1957-00-00
Political Resistance

The baHurutshe Revolt has been well documented, in particular by the local Anglican priest in Zeerust at the time, the Rev. Charles Hooper. By the mid-1950s Kgosi (chief) Abraham Moiloa had angered the white authorities by opposing the Betterment initiatives of the state. So, even before the Revolt, relations between the baHurutshe and the apartheid state were already strained. Moiloa had the support of most women producers, especially in Dinokana. In 1957 the National Party government decided to issue "reference books" or passes to rural Africans, to control movement between the rural districts and the cities. Many baHurutshe saw this as a threat to their livelihoods, especially coming, as it did, so soon after the unpopular Betterment schemes in Moiloa's Reserve.  Abraham Moiloa decided to reject the issuing of passes and had majority support. He was deposed from his bogosi  by the Department of Native Affairs. Resistance strengthened, and men and women returned from the Witwatersrand to lend support. The baHurutshe Association, comprising of men from Johannesburg, was formed to assist in the fight. Events took a violent turn in April 1957 when the houses and property of known or suspected supporters of the government were destroyed. The Police set up a Mobile Unit in the Reserve to quell the disturbances, and over 450 pass resisters were arrested, and large numbers were intimidated, and subjected to physical abuse. The baHurutshe engaged the services of Advocate George Bizos, instructed by the law firm of Mandela, Tambo and Miller, to defend those arrested.

Up to this point, the troubles had been confined to the south of the Reserve, but by mid-1957 the disturbances spread to virtually the entire Reserve. On Christmas day of 1957, over 50 houses (and a car belonging to chief Lencoe) were destroyed in Leeuwfontein and Witkleigat. The state acted determinedly. The villages were sealed off and public trials ensued. Kgosi  Mangope in Motswedi, who appeared still in his dressing gown following an attack on his house), imposed fines for pass burning and arson. In effect, the resistance had now assumed significant elements of a civil conflict. In Gopane in January 1958, matters reached a bloody climax when four people were killed when a police patrol was mobbed by villagers. Resistance ended at this point. Mass arrests followed and about 200 people were charged with murder and public violence. Due to the efforts of their lawyers, only five baHurutshe were convicted of assault, and 58 with public violence. Over a thousand people, among them Abraham Moiloa, fled into Botswana (then Bechuanaland) where they were housed and fed by the British High Commission for eight months. Many of these people never returned to South Africa. Charles Hooper and his wife were banned and left the country. The collapse of the revolt allowed the government to impose "Bantu Authorities" in the Reserve, which was a cornerstone of the Bantustan policy under Grand Apartheid. The revolt comprises an important episode in the history of rural resistance in South Africa. More recent evidence which has been brought to light after 1994 indicates that certain ANC-aligned individuals played prominent roles in the Zeerust resistance. The event also gave the region a reputation for radical political activity that continued into the 1980s and even beyond. (See also Mangope, Abraham Moiloa)   

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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