On June 16 1976 the students of Soweto rose up in protest against a new rule that all teaching in African schools had to be done in Afrikaans. They were led by a charismatic young man called Tsietsi Mashinini. Tsietsi was one of the thirteen children of Joseph and Nomkhitha Mashinini, God-fearing, law-abiding citizens who had never been mixed up in politics. His actions on that day set in motion a chain of events that would forever define his family, and that would change all their lives.
In A Burning Hunger Lynda Schuster tells the story of this remarkable family and in so doing tells the story of black South Africa in microcosm. For this is a family that embraces just about every facet of the liberation struggle. The eldest of the Mashinini children, Rocks, rose to a high rank in the army of the ANC; for years he directed the freedom fighters who infiltrated South Africa from neighboring countries in order to carry out sabotage. Tsietsi, brilliant, articulate, a natural leader, went underground after June 16 and then into exile. He was implacably opposed to the ANC and became the darling of Vanessa Redgrave, Stokely Carmichael and Miriam Makeba. He died in exile in 1990, just as his comrades were returning to their homeland. Mpho, the fourth son, was the most militant. He was eventually arrested, tortured and tried for treason. He went on to establish one of the most important anti-government organizations of the 1980s, the Soweto Youth Congress. Another brother, Dee, went to Tanzania in order to become a guerrilla, but was refused on the grounds of his youth. He eventually worked for Radio Freedom, the voice of the ANC. Yet another, Tshepiso, bookish, church-going, was torn between his studies and political activism. He eventually went to Oxford to study, and returned to South Africa in 1991, becoming a key figure on the Johannesburg council.
If the Mandelas were the generals in the fight for black liberation, the Mashininis were the foot soldiers. It is the story of one black family, ordinary but also extraordinary. It is a story of imprisonment, torture, separation and loss, but also of dignity, courage and strength in the face of appalling adversity. It will become one of the seminal books about the struggle against apartheid.
Five black South African brothers from a moderate, religious home emerged as political heroes during the 1970s and '80s. Their fame came mostly from the events of a single day June 16, 1976 when middle school and high school students held a nonviolent march to protest a government ruling that required half of all school subjects to be taught in Afrikaans, a language few black children knew. Police shot dozens of children at the march, and Tsietsi Mashinini, one of its organizers, became an enemy of the state. His siblings Rocks, Mpho, Dee and Tshepiso, at once cursed by their brother's notoriety and blessed with his gift for political organizing and public speaking, became leaders in the antiapartheid movement and eventually followed their brother into hiding, prison and exile. Schuster's five-way biography captures the antiapartheid movement from the perspective of adolescents, but her book is hampered by complicated accounts of infighting among political factions, and the journeys of its protagonists are sometimes difficult to follow. Yet the essential story remains crystal clear: this is a book about the sacrifices a family made for a cause much greater than they.