Friday 15 June 2007

Black Rose gives insight into June 1976

For anyone who desires to read up about the events surrounding that 16 June 1976, I can do no better than recommend that you read Open Earth and Black Roses, written by Sibongile Mkhabela.

Mkhabela was a participant in those events and gives an inside view of the thinking, events and immediate consequences of the Soweto student protest that flared up into a national uprising. She was one of the Soweto student leaders at the time, and the only women in the leadership group. The pictures in the book show her, dressed in school uniform, as a slip of girl and the other student leaders as equally extremely youthful.

The rose in the book’s title can be taken to refer to Mkhabela (then Mthembu) [her being the lone female in the Soweto Student Representative Committee] as the proverbial rose among the thorns. It also suggests beauty, innocence (of the young township girl), fragility and of course a sharp edge that signifies anger and a willingness to take action.

The leadership team was soon detained, and Sibongile tells of the strains of being isolated from her counterparts in women cells.

The first hand narrative of the protest is complemented by Mkhabela’s insights and perspectives around community, society and change. She comes across as a person with sound values, a strong belief in community development and an engrossing vision for the country. Mkhabela speaks from the heart and keeps her text direct; the text is free of contrivance, artifice and needless theorizing.

By the way, Mkhabela is currently CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

In the book’s closing section, she shares - in a powerful way - her aspirations for the country; she also conveys a deep concern about the fact that millions of people have not yet benefited in a life-changing way from democracy...

Open Earth and Black Roses – published by Skotaville Press – was released a few years ago, but has not been widely distributed. It can most likely be obtained by requesting it at your bookshop. You can also get your hands on the book by emailing or

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