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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Anne Heffernan

Heffernan, Anne (2015). Black Consciousness's Lost Leader: Abraham Tiro, the University of the North, and the Seeds of South Africa's Student Movement in the 1970s. Journal of Southern African Studies 41(1): 173-186.

Author(s) from Durham


The 1970s have come to represent a decade of student protest within South Africa, but in writing history of this period, scholarly attention has focused primarily on pivotal events in the latter part of the decade, such as the Soweto student uprising of 1976, and the institutional history of organisations such as the South African Students' Organisation. This focus has, by necessity, neglected the contributions of non-urban, regional actors and sites of protest. It has also failed to contextualise the events of 1976 against a backdrop of student protest earlier in the decade. This article seeks to situate the role of the rural northern Transvaal in the student protests of the 1970s. It focuses on the rise of Abraham Tiro, a student at the University of the North and prominent leader in the South African Students' Organisation, and on the University of the North itself as a site of protest organisation that influenced and changed student protest across South Africa between 1971 and 1974. The paper argues that both Tiro's individual impact on national protest politics and the role of the University of the North as an incubation site for SASO greatly influenced the spread of the student movement during this period, by facilitating the conscientisation of school and university students. Through events such as Tiro's 1972 graduation speech, the Alice Declaration, and the influx of Turfloop students into high schools as teachers, the Black Consciousness brand of politicisation was effectively spread across South Africa's black student community.