Unsung heroes and heroines stamp collection

A memorial in Orlando West, Soweto, honouring the victims of the massacre of school children by apartheid police. AFP/Mujahid Safodien/via Getty Images

A Soweto initiative rising from the ashes of those who lost their lives during and after the seminal 16 June 1976 uprisings


Gabriel Kgora ‘Gab’ Mataboge is one of those child geniuses who started school at the tender age of 3 because he was too smart to be cooped up in a creche with his peers.

The fact that he still vividly recalls the 16 June 1976 events when he had just turned 4 in May 1976 speaks to his exceptional creative power.

Kgora gets animated with his graphic recollection of what transpired on the day that changed the history of South Africa for good and also changed his life and that of his family in the process.

On this day 47 years ago, the youth and pupils of 1976 took to the streets of Soweto to protest against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and triggered events that would lead to the unbanning of all political parties and the release of former President Nelson Mandela from Robben Island among other struggle icons.

The 16 June 1976 protests went down in history as the catalyst for change in South Africa. They brought about the end of apartheid, which was replaced by a constitutional democracy still prevailing in South Africa, where every citizen has a right to vote.

The June 16 peaceful protests, within a few days, had turned violent and had spread across most black and coloured townships in major towns such as Durban, Cape Town, East London, Gqebera, Mpumalanga, Polokwane, Kimberley and Bushbuckridge, among others.

There was chaos all around as the government and private business property was torched and vandalised, stores were looted, and many young and older adults were either shot and maimed or killed during skirmishes with the police. Hundreds of others were detained for weeks and months in the aftermath of June 16 while scores fled the country into exile.

When the riots started, Kgora’s mom, Dorah Nthakeng Mataboge, a teacher at a nearby school, quickly went to fetch her young son from his Kgaogelo Primary School. She dropped him off at home in Naledi with his father, Johannes Rradimmeko Matoboge.

Incidentally, Rradimmeko Mataboge was a delegate at the 1955 ANC conference In Kliptown for the adoption of the Freedom Charter.

It is at the Rradimmeko household that the young Kgora got a glimpse of why there was chaos all around him with sirens blaring and his dad closing and locking all the doors while his older schoolmates were running like crazy up and down the streets of Naledi.

A curious Kgora used a crack in the door to get a glimpse of what was going on in the streets.
“Days before the riots, my namesake Gabriel ‘Gabinkie’ Mataboge told my father that something big was coming. Gabinkie and I were cousins and got our names from our grandfather, Gabriel Kgora Mataboge. I remember the guy was big and looked older for his age, around 16. He was a very colourful character

“Gabinkie used to sell all kinds of goodies in the trains, and I am not sure if anyone took him seriously about issues of politics. But when all hell broke loose, we all remembered his warning about something significant coming. He was an activist of sorts and very brave.

“Through the hole in the door, I could see an open veld opposite our street, and there was a Coca-Cola truck, and there was activity around it. I then saw police Land Rovers, and there were gunshots. I heard Gabinkie was shot and killed by a sniper during this skirmish. Many snipers were doing the rounds in our townships at the time.

“An uncle of ours was on his way to convey the message that Gabinkie had been shot and killed when he, too, got shot in the leg. A stray bullet from the police in the Land Rovers at the Coca-Cola truck skirmish hit him. My father opened the door, and I saw so much blood on my uncle; I was terrified”.

Kgora said that all these years, he has been trying to find images and to get more information about Gabinkie and his role in youth activities before June 16 but has yet to find any way to get through.
This is what inspired him to come up with the “Unsung Heroes & Heroines Stamp Collection to pay tribute to individuals and families who made significant contributions to the Anti-Apartheid struggle but were never recognised for their roles.

“These are individuals and families, such as Gabinkie, who have never been given recognition for their selfless devotion to South African and Southern Africa’s struggle for liberation.

“These stamps are not only about the 1976 unsung heroes but people who were not political but played a pivotal role in our struggle for liberation. There were all sorts of players in our struggle. Those who stole cars and took kids across our borders to escape the brutality and torture from the security forces and to join the liberation struggle.

“We hope the stamp collection can garner public attention and become an avenue to raise awareness and funds for the offsprings of these individuals,’’ he says.

Kgora says the stamps, created by his 23-year-old son Khumo Mataboge, will form part of the Soweto Republic Passports (an education, culinary and clubbing venture) aimed at stimulating and driving domestic and international foot traffic to all Soweto Tourism destinations.

“The UNSung Heroes & Heroines Stamps Collection aims to pay tribute to individuals and families who made significant contributions to the Anti-Apartheid struggle and were unfortunately denied recognition for their selfless devotion to South Africa and Southern Africa.

“The creators of the UnSung Heroes Stamps Collection hope that these Tourism Destination tools can garner public attention, become the avenue to raise awareness and drive Tourism foot traffic to the Blue Plague Memorial Homes of these UnSung Heroes & Heroines and beyond.

Khumo also did a stamp as a tribute to his grandfather Rradimmeko alongside the father and founder of Soweto Sofasonke Mpanza.

Corporates, Brands & Tourism Destinations seeking to partner and be included on the passport can contact Brand Soweto at 083-477-1867 or dsouthafrica@gmail.com


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