[imagesource: Graeme Williams]
The image above was captured by apartheid-era resistance photographer Graeme Williams in 1991.
It was taken in Tokoza Township, Johannesburg, and shows police watching an ANC rally while children taunt them by toyi-toying on the other side of the fence.
The toyi-toyi is as much a part of our lexicon as it is our history and culture in South Africa.
Professor Jocelyn Alexander and professor JoAnn McGregor, of the University of Oxford and the University of Sussex respectively, wrote a piece for The Conversation taking a closer look at how a protest dance that started in Algeria ended up here.
The origins of the dance can be traced back to training camps set up to support African liberation movements in Algeria in the 60s.
From there it moved to training camps in Tanzania and then into Zambia, and on to Zimbabwe, where it was used by soldiers in the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) to maintain physical strength, loyalty, and discipline.
As an aside, and to illustrate the power of the dance, in October 2004 Robert Mugabe banned toyi-toying, even indoors, because of its use as a form of protest.
It arrived in South Africa when uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) learned the toyi-toyi from ZPRA, in military camps in Angola and Zambia. It gained traction as a staple in demonstrations and anti-apartheid protests.
After the 1976 Soweto massacre, the resistance became more militant, and the songs that accompanied the toyi-toyi became charged with imagery of an armed struggle for liberation:
The toyi-toyi, a military march dance and song style, became commonplace in massive street demonstrations, often accompanied by the struggle cry: “Amandla!” to which the response is “Awethu!”:
As one activist put it, “The toyi-toyi was our weapon. We did not have the technology of warfare, the tear gas and tanks, but we had this weapon”.
It’s cemented into a political culture that still holds strong today.
If there’s a protest without toy-toying, is it even a protest? Ask the folks at Muizenberg Beach, I guess.
You can read more on the history of the toyi-toyi here.
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