Cillie High School Personal Statement

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Part 1: Commission of Inquiry into the Riots at Soweto and Elsewhere (Cillié) from the 16 June, 1976 - 28 February, 1977

Genesis of the Cillié Commission

Just a day after the first shootings, the minister of police, Jimmy Kruger, recognizing that "we are going through an emotional period," indicated plans to appoint a one-man commission of inquiry that would be presided over by the Honourable Mr. Justice Petrus Malan Cillié, judge-president of the Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa, so that "we should not lose our perspective entirely" (emphasis added).52

Earlier, and reflecting an entirely less simplistic rationale for the need for an investigation, member of the opposition, Colin W. Eglin, said:

We trust that there is going to be a critical inquiry into the events of yesterday and today, … I hope … we shall not merely look for scapegoats and that the Government will not indulge in the superficial exercise of blaming everything on so-called activists. We believe that the implications of what took place in Soweto yesterday are far too serious for all of us for either a one-sided or a superficial analysis.

He called for the appointment of a "top level … multiracial commission … to consider the social, economic and political reforms that are going to be essential if we are going to avoid conflict."53 This commission however, if we are to believe the minister of police, was to restore "perspective"—a perspective that reflected the profound bias in the government's point of view.

The Cillié Commission54 was to establish and report on the facts and causes of "the riots,"55 avoiding any recommendations. Grievances that might have been the cause of violence were to be investigated not "with a view to establishing what should be done to rectify matters" but rather to examine whether they might have been justified, to investigate the probability of their existence, and to probe "the possibility of someone having been misled."56

It is not certain that the establishment of the Cillié Commission was more than a formalized, ceremonial response to the crisis, more token and ritual than a real attempt at legitimate discovery. Two things point to this: the commission was not asked to formulate a set of proposals for change; and the appointment of a single commissioner—besides making a counter-balance to the government's point of view impossible—also guaranteed that the work of the commission would be slow and cumbersome. Although there is no concrete evidence for this, it may be possible that the commission's slow pace was exactly what the government needed, since there was, in reality, no justification for what had happened nor any doubt about the causes or the chain of events. Certainly the increasingly urgent questions about the status of the commission before parliament were met with unhurried deferrals. The commission was completely overwhelmed by the formidable task of investigating an uprising that had spread to nearly every black community in South Africa and that lasted well into 1977. In the end, Cillié was only able to table his report in 1980, long after the government thought it had reestablished control in the townships. The report was an exhaustive two-volume account of events that had clearly spun out of the control of government authorities and that had clearly moved beyond the capacity of a commission that boasted a staff of five in Johannesburg, and another four for the Cape and for Durban (See: Cillié Commisison document excerpts.) From the beginning, the commission was criticized in the public and in the press for the narrowness of its terms of reference, the selection of its sole chairman, and the packing of witnesses.

As a legal institution and procedure, the Cillié Commission of Inquiry into the Riots at Soweto and Elsewhere provided a unique and contained case study of a process of construction of social meaning by the state. Its final report—in which the proceedings, evidence, and findings of the Cillié Commission were duly chronicled—provided the text for an analysis of the official discourse of the South African state in crisis. The Cillié Report dealt with the initial outbreak of the "rioting," and of the armed confrontation with the police, that began in the middle of June 1976 and continued well into 1977. After a long period in which the armed or organized struggle against state power had been in abeyance, the uprising heralded a reemergence of sustained and organized resistance that was to last into the 1980s. In the way the Cillié Report allocated responsibility and absolved the police of guilt, it was designed to restore the legitimacy of the police and its practices. In particular, Cillié sought to restore the tarnished image of the South African Police, describing its initial response to the demonstrations as a temporary lapse, and lay the groundwork for further repressive police action.

Related links:
List of Witnesses to the Cillié Commission The Cillié Commission heard evidence for eight months during 126 sittings, at which 563 testified. It presented its two-volume report to Parliament in 1980, four years after the uprising had begun. The transcribed records of these proceedings run to some 9,000 pages. The Commission considered 495 documentary exhibits, including memoranda and statements by witnesses, photographs taken by police and reporters, letters, pamphlets, books and other writings, students' banners, and placards with slogans. In order to compile a detailed list (annexed to the report) of persons who died in the uprising, the Commission studied a large number of inquest records. Newspapers provided the Commission with their reports of the first few days of the uprising, and the Commission constantly scrutinized the press, including foreign papers, for details of evidence not known to it and for comments on the uprising. The Commission reviewed all the videotapes produced by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which had just begun to tape for television.57 It also considered judgments and records of 178 court cases related to the uprising; it studied the reports of previous commissions of inquiry to discover continuities with disturbances previously inquired into; and it read books and treatises on these and other disturbances, with special reference to "certain matters in countries abroad [that] made it easier to understand similar matters in this country."58 Reports of Parliamentary proceedings, especially replies to questions in Parliament, formed part of the Commission's sources and provided background not only to the debate about the issues of the uprising confronting the government, but also to mounting criticism, from the official opposition, that the Commission's publication of its final report was not timely enough.


Even before the Commission sat for a single day or heard a single witness, the minister of police had portrayed participants in the uprising as communists and marked them as savages, comparing the crisis in Soweto to "riots" in East London (South Africa) in 1950, when "they hacked three nuns to death, and there was even talk of some of the people's flesh disappearing." His rhetorical questions were full of suspicion:

What would have caused that? … The day before yesterday, however, there was nothing. Suddenly the streets were full of marching students… the young people walked with their fists in the air. Why do they walk with upraised fists? Surely this is the sign of the Communist Party. I do not want to accuse them of being Communists, but where does this walking with upraised fist come from? [if not from there?] Why do they walk through the streets shouting the word "power"? Where do these things among the young people come from? The question also arises: How is it that they are such skilled incendiaries, so much so that we are no longer able to contain the arson? How do they succeed in doing this? … One must know how to set something alight if one wants to set fire to a building or if one wants to set fire to a tractor. One must know something about those things.59

At a dispassionate, analytical level, Kruger raised a relatively direct question about how it was that people, children in this case, came to "transcend, bypass or subvert established institutional patterns and structures."60 In other words, his questions suggested a very legitimate concern with one of the distinctive features of collective behavior. Given the apparent normalcy of the days leading up to uprising, indeed the compliance of the African township population with the social order as well as the continued ability of police and other authority to contain small signs of discontent61 since what must have seemed like time immemorial, what combination of factors had compelled the township youth to overstep the boundaries of order and obedience and plunge themselves and the township into confrontation and conflict? First, it is important to ask whose perception of order and obedience62 and indeed of normalcy we are talking about, and to ask how it may have been reflected both in the immediate reaction (and word choice) and in the long-term record being created. Secondly, it is necessary to come to terms with the more sinister significance of Kruger's words, the almost immediate (Kruger was speaking the day after June 16) attempt to smear the actions of township schoolchildren even before much was known about what actually happened on June 16.63

The anticipated answers to Kruger's rhetorical questions became clear as the Parliamentary speeches unfolded, and they were furnished by Kruger himself and other "officials of the … Government, provincial and municipal departments."64 In their eyes these were no ordinary children on the streets of Soweto. They were "schoolchildren" who marched "unrestrainedly" through Soweto together with "street urchins" and "lawless idlers."65 In response to a question in Parliament the morning after the beginning of the uprising, Kruger was dispassionate:

On 16 June 1976 at 07h50, it was reported to the police at Soweto that pupils of the Thomas Mofolo and Naledi High Schools intended to undertake a protest march to Orlando East. The ages of these pupils vary between 18 and 22 years … pupils … had attacked … with stones … about 2,000 pupils … were already moving past Jabulani … pupils … were … rioting… they [police unit] were summarily stoned by hundreds of pupils, before they were even given an opportunity to negotiate with the pupils… restrain pupils … pupils were dispersed … pupils … joined forces … the number of the riotous mass swelled to approximately 10,000 … the rioters … the crowd … the rioters … many regrouped in smaller bands … started setting fire … plundering and looting liquor stores.66

Then "the children" turned on their tormentors with stones. They torched buildings, looted bottle stores, and terrified motorists with clenched Black Power fists. And in the halls of power, the authorities no longer cringed but set about the dual task of seizing and breaking those who had participated in the uprising and of condemning and denigrating their struggle. A substantial part of this task fell to the Cillié Commission.

Cillié was just the man to sit a thorny fence. As judge-president of the Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa, he possessed a reputation for judicial impartiality that, should anyone challenge it, could be established beyond reproof. Educated both in South Africa (B.A. and LL.B. from Rand Afrikaanse Universiteit) and abroad (M.A. and LL.B. degrees from Cambridge), he was a member of the legal faculty of the University of the Witwatersrand. He had chaired several commissions before this one,67 and his political pedigree as an Afrikaner was reflected in his name and would guarantee his sympathy with the government.

Judge Cillié understood his role primarily as one of establishing "the true facts of the riots" by carefully collecting the relevant evidence and considering its reliability. It was claimed that the detailed chronology of "riot incidents," arranged according to date, police division, place, and time—that was annexed to the report gave "a complete picture of the disturbances and riots" (emphasis added). In his deliberation of the causes of the uprising, Cillié considered not only the opinions of witnesses but also "the true facts and the logical inferences that could be drawn from them."68

Related document:
Cillié Report: "Evidence"

Related link:
Chapter 3, Section 3: "Genesis of the ANC's Account"

If the government had hoped for quick report and effective closure on the events in Soweto and elsewhere, it was to be disappointed, largely because of Judge Cillié's meticulous diligence. What he did not voice in criticism, he certainly made up for in terms of detail. There is little doubt that the government appointed the Honourable Petrus Malan Cillié to be its voice, but the commissioner did not always do its bidding nor in a timely fashion. His report clearly showed how ill-prepared the police had been on the first day of the uprising and minced no words about the consequences. But by the time it was tabled, it had been overshadowed by the events of the Information Scandal. The South African government had moved beyond mere indirect manipulations of the personnel of a commission to directly trying to influence public opinion by means of propagandistic journalism in media it had bought and bent to its purpose, both nationally and internationally. For this purpose it illegally diverted public funds into a vast discursive undercover operation. News of this misuse of taxpayers' money became public in 1979 and was far more painful to the white electorate than the mere death of a few hundred black children. In the end, the Information Scandal did what no mere national uprising could achieve, it forced the resignation of Prime Minister John Vorster. It is particularly interesting to note that the Information Scandal is evidence of the fact that the apartheid government placed great stock in the ability of public discourses to reestablish legitimacy and to counter internal and international criticism, isolation and increasing boycotts that had emerged out of the Soweto uprising.


Methods of the Cillié Commission

Rhetoric and Argument

It is the purpose of this section to analyze the text of the Cillié Report as well as the records of its proceedings and hearings and to try to understand the structures of knowledge and the ways of knowing that constituted its discursive power.69 The Cillié Commission was concerned with providing the jurisprudential justifications for the coercive and administrative practices of the state. What is striking about judicial discourse, when it is employed by judges and other legal personnel during public inquiries, is the versatility and ingenuity reflected in the discursive techniques used to demonstrate that all aspects of life are amenable to judicial interpretation and closure.


When a judge heads an official investigation into a social crisis situation at whose heart lies a threat to the proclaimed authority of the state (and its agents), its judicial administration, and the maintenance of public order, a precondition for the effectiveness of the intended official discourse is to establish a hierarchy of authoritative voices, headed by the judge himself, to claim objectivity and absolute judicial authority.70 It was thus one of the key discursive tasks of the report to establish for itself a position from which it could be understood to be making authoritative determinations of what really happened at the time as well as of what those events might really have meant for all time.

Related documents:
Cillié Report Catalog of Events—Soweto, Jan-June 1976:
page 94-116
page 117-132

It is worth reminding oneself that the judge, as the principal author of the report, was already in possession of the findings when he wrote the report, regardless of where in the actual text the findings were placed. The way in which the story of the uprising was allowed to unfold in the report let the judge frame subsequently presented evidence within the interpretative parameters of the final findings. In the Cillié Report, the Judge paused at various points during the unfolding narrative to give his findings.

Red Thread: The Confrontation

Police Addressing Crowd With Bullhorn.

For example, Cillié found that the march had been illegal71 and that not all students who demonstrated were disorderly or rebellious but that "various circumstances and incidents" showed that "certain marches72 and groups of schoolchildren … were definitely riotous" (emphasis added).73 The first shooting, the judge acknowledged, took place at the Orlando West High School. He allowed that the methods chosen by the police to stop or disperse the march were ineffective or nonexistent. For example, Colonel Kleingeld, "neither there [Khumalo Street] nor in Vilakazi Street in front of the OWHS [Orlando West High School], gave the riotous crowd an audible and effective order to disperse and depart from the place," and "he had no loudhailer to make himself heard above the noise of the crowd."74 Cillié confirmed that the lives of police officers confronting the crowd of students had been in danger.75

Orlando West High School.

These findings, interspersed in the narrative or summarized at the end, allowed Cillié to counter his critics' anticipated although often silent accusations, which were ever present in the alternative version of events that the official narrative of Soweto continuously needed to confront, incorporate, or suppress. At several points early on in the report, Cillié presented these unofficial, alternative versions and then immediately dismissed them, as the following examples will show. (See: Chapter 3 "Introduction.")

For a variety of reasons having to do with the nature and meaning of the uprising, the Commission was preoccupied with the question of whether the uprising was spontaneous or planned. Relating it to the question of the peaceableness of the march, and answering to the challenge whether responsibility for violence should be laid in the hands of the police or of the youth, Cillié found that the march "had been carefully planned. It is clear that in all the circumstances the [violent] eruption could have been foreseen and was not spontaneous."76

Related documents:
Cillié Report Catalog of Events—Soweto, Jan-June 1976:
page 117-132


Similarly, the question of culpability was confronted in the question of whether "the crowd threw stones because the police fired, or the police fired because the crowd threw stones."77 Cillié found that the "actions of the police in putting a stop to the illegal march were not the cause of further unrest" The opposing narrative was confronted, and almost immediately it was dismissed:

More than one witness said that the peaceful marches would not have degenerated into riots if the police had not started shooting. Others went so far as to contend that, if the police had not intervened at all, there would have been no violence. Those who expressed such opinions did not take the following facts into account: The marches and all those participating in them were not peaceful and orderly at all times. This was an uncontrolled or badly controlled march. Even before the shooting there had been public violence, and it was very probable that violence would occur again. The march was illegal and the police were duty bound to let the crowd disperse, or to disperse them, and later, to quell the rioting.

Another disturbing unofficial detail needed to be proven untrue:

Two people gave evidence that they had seen an old man lying in the street. He had been shot and was apparently dead.

First the judge rejected the story, arguing that "despite careful investigation the Commission could find no proof of such a case." To prove his point, he then described how one of the leaders of the youth movement—a spokesman for and, in effect, the voice of the Other—corroborated the official death count, making no mention of a third black victim:

Later that day, Tsietsi Mashinini [the leader of the youth movement] addressed returning pupils at the MIHS, and announced that the police had shot and killed two scholars and wounded eleven.

Red Thread: Hector Pieterson

Related documents:
Cillié Report Catalog of Events—Soweto, Jan-June 1976:
page 117-132

The killing of Hector Pieterson provides a final example: Judge Cillié found "that he was killed by a bullet not intended for him." A newspaper report that "he was shot and killed in cold blood by one of five Black policemen in a blue car when they tried to stop the march" suggested an alternative version. Judge Cillié immediately rejected it by saying that "[t]here was no evidence to corroborate" such a report.78 Again and again, he invoked common sense, human nature, and appeals to legality to show that assumptions based on hindsight are unproductive:

Again, it is futile to speculate on what would have happened had the police not acted. They did act, the scholars were dispersed, and the riots broke out. [Emphasis added.]79

Cillié Testimony 1 September 1976
Cillié Testimony 2
Police Statement June 1976 Colonel Kleingeld, the police officer in charge during the first confrontation between the demonstrators and the police, expressed the opinion that the stone-throwing and the uproar of the crowd drowned out his words of warning to disperse. He did not use a loudhailer because he did not have one.

Whether a loudhailer would have made his words audible above the noise of the crowd, and whether events would have been any different if the crowd had been able to hear him, cannot be determined; nor is there any point in speculating on such questions. [Emphasis added.]80

The judge argued further that what might now (at the time of the writing of the report) be apparent to himself and the reader would not necessarily have been apparent then, even to those who should have known:

It is clear from the investigation that the Secretary himself was not kept fully posted… [F]ull details of the events would have made him realise that the pupils were in such a frame of mind that they could easily resort to violence in their campaign of protest…
The Commission does not wish to speculate about what might have happened if the Secretary and the Minister had been in possession of full details; but if they had had all the information they should have had, they could have evaluated the position more accurately and then steps for the prevention of a disaster would not have been excluded.81

Acknowledging hindsight as a powerful tool, the judge used it to soften the blow of his criticisms:

In considering the activities of the police on the 16th, the Commission is mindful of how easy and unfair it could be to censure action or absence of action with hindsight. Nevertheless, clear signs of brewing unrest during the last few weeks before the 16th were ignored. [Emphasis added.]82

Thus, another of the "discursive methodologies" was the resolution of opposing contentions and conflicting versions by the careful management and choreographing of pieces of the narrative. With respect to the narrative history in question, the judge determined what could be asked and be known, when, and by whom. One of the questions he sought to resolve was whether or not the police should have been aware of what was brewing and whether they should therefore have been prepared to face an escalated situation. The narrative maintained two opposing contentions: (1) that it was established, on the evidence of contemporary witnesses, that trouble was brewing in Soweto (and that therefore the police should have been better prepared); and (2) that these same witnesses, whose evidence now (at the time of the investigation) established that the police had every reason to suspect conflict, could either not have known that trouble was brewing at the time of the confrontation or did not warn police at the time, either deliberately or because they, the witnesses, lacked credibility. In other words, the ironical status of these representations of factual history—now, at the time of the inquiry, they constitute evidence of police culpability, but they would not have back then—posed a dilemma. Had the police been better prepared they would have had other means (effective tear gas, more men, dogs, etc.) to put down the riot, making the use of violent firepower less necessary and therefore also making the subsequent escalation of the demonstration into rioting less likely to have happened. On the other hand, Cillié argued that the use of police firepower was not really—or, if at all, then only briefly—responsible for the escalation of the violence. As will be argued below, Cillié made a careful distinction between the "acts of violence" immediately following the shooting of Hector Pieterson and Hastings Ndlovu and the large-scale violence that broke out in the following days and nights. Here also, the issue of the nonapplicability then of what, with hindsight, could be adduced now—Cillié used hindsight extensively in his arguments—was important, as was the invocation of the concepts of common sense, human nature, and the "right-mindedness" of his assumed readers.

The whole report was thus organized so that its readers could be seduced into interpreting events from the same perspective claimed by the judge—a perspective that already presupposed the correct version. Once the interpretive parameters of the final findings had been set, they formed the framework for the subsequently presented story and determined the actual structure and organization of the official report.

Red Thread: Hector Pieterson

Related documents:
Cillié Report Catalog of Events—Soweto, Jan-June 1976:
page 94-116

The Cillié Report began with a section titled "The Prelude to the Riots," (Cillié Report, Volume 1, Part B, Chapter 1) which described the nature of the conflict brewing in the townships—the planning by the students and their propensity for violence. Invoking common sense and human nature, the judge showed that what was now apparent to him was not apparent (though existent) and could not have been apparent then to those in positions of authority:

The Department [of Bantu Education] therefore had no official knowledge or written record of the incidents…

… The Ministerial reply was that the Department had no knowledge of any such incident.83

While all these arrangements were being made far and wide, the police had no knowledge of the proposed large-scale protest march.84

Related documents:
Cillié Report Catalog of Events—Soweto, Jan-June 1976:
page 94-116

Chapter 2 and 3 of the report (especially paragraphs 3.1-3.5) saw the police, "heroes" in the official discourse of the state, make an entrance, their image only slightly tainted by their unpreparedness. Here, then, were the descriptions of their weapons, their rights with respect to an illegal march, their duty to keep law and order, their conscientious actions. Having already had access to the judge's privileged findings, such as the threat to the lives of police officers, the reader begins to sense the significance of the juxtapositioning of these topics of chapters 1 and 2. The exemplary police, well within the rights and duties of their profession, were about to be confronted with the full force of the built-up anger of a protest that they had either ignored or underestimated.


On to "The Confrontation," (Cillié Report, Volume 1, Part B, Chapter 3, Paragraph 3.6) the Hero's stage, in front of the Orlando West High School. In indisputable, precise detail, every bit of evidence was presented to the reader, who was then urged to join in a fraternal critique, in which any mistaken practices made by the police were seen as resulting from the obvious effects of their being outnumbered, unprepared, cornered, thwarted by equipment failures, and afraid for their lives.

Armed thus with the knowledge presented in the text of the Villain (riotous intimidating crowds), the Hero (an exemplary police force), and the Heroic Stage (outside Orlando West High School), the reader was now presented, in the following sections of the report, with the evidence as it was presented by those assumed (because of their less privileged, less trusted position in the hierarchy of the knowing) to be less knowing than the judge and his readers—by those, that is, who might criticize the police. The judge ruled that initially the police might have been partially responsible for the outbreak of violence but that they could hardly be held responsible for the continuation of the uprising. It is from here on that the Other and its opposing narratives begin to reappear frequently in the text of the report, necessitating that more techniques of dispersion, punctuation, and closure be employed. (Compare with "ANC: Rhetoric," in the next chapter.)


Complaints against the police came from every area in South Africa to which the uprising spread and throughout the entire period investigated by the Commission. They ran the gamut from random shooting, excessive violence, and incitement to entrapment, intimidation, and torture. The last 25 witnesses the Commission heard were all from the Cape Town areas of Nyanga and Guguletu, where there had been numerous allegations of excessive use of force by the police. These complaints were lent weight by newspaper reports and the testimony of church ministers, who also collected scores of affidavits from victims as well as by Helen Suzman, a member of the opposition in Parliament. Her criticism of police methods was repeated and articulate.85 Mervin Rees, a journalist and one of the witnesses to the Commission, commented at length about such complaints and spoke of the gradual deterioration of relations with the police.

Despite the confusion of the first day or two, when the police operated in obviously difficult circumstances, they had been "reasonably helpful" at first, Rees reported. After the first night, Colonel Gerber had released the latest casualty and death figures. They were based on the bodies police had found in the township throughout the night, "which they said may or may not have been caused by the police; certainly some of them had apparently—some of the victims had been attacked and killed by rioters or looters in various incidents in the township." They also gave reporters a "pretty comprehensive background in terms of the number of vehicles that had been stoned and set alight, buildings that had been damaged." After that, release of figures or statistics by the police became "hopelessly inadequate." White reporters were warned not to go into the townships and had to rely on African reporters to cover the events from day to day:

[T]hey would come back with varied reports; reports of police actions or police brutality or shooting incidents, whatever the nature of it was and we would then try and check these details with the police and at that point in time it was handed on to me as being the crime reporter on the [Rand Daily] Mail to check these details and I found that it was virtually impossible to get policed to refer specifically to details or give accurate casualty figures. We found the hospitals too in the same position; they refused to release details of the total number of casualties or identify victims and this lack of communication has in fact got steadily worse ever since the start of the riots and today we do have a line of communication through General Kriel at Police Headquarters in Pretoria, but again it is a very detached line of communication and we find that the figures even now of arrests, casualties, deaths, injuries, damage to property are hopelessly inadequate. [Emphasis added.]86

This posed a quandary with regard to the reliability of information for everyone. Violence made it impossible or, at the very least, difficult for anyone—including black reporters—to gather information. The racial dimensions of the conflict further complicated access and understanding. As is clear from Rees's testimony, white reporters had to rely on their black colleagues or resort to alternative ways of gathering information (See essay: "The Press as Witnesses.") Finally, the police, the one group who were as present in the conflict as were the participants, were fundamentally questionable as a source. These challenges similarly confronted the Cillié Commission, which, in addition, started its work with some delay after the beginning of the uprising, heavily favored adult white witnesses (See section on Witnesses below,) and gathered its information in a climate of suspicion and fear.

It was to his presumed critics that Cillié addressed himself. Since neither the judge-author nor his readers witnessed the actual events, the narrative had at times to appeal to experiences shared by all as part of the human condition. Because such commonsense knowledge and everyday experience is rooted in every person's experience and understanding of human nature—the human condition understood by all—judicious official discourse can guarantee its pronouncements of fact by claiming that anyone would understand why the players acted as indeed the narrative suggested they did. In recognition of the qualities of experience and understanding necessary to this subjectivist empiricist explanation, Cillié at the beginning of the report thanked the advisors to the Commission for their exceptionally "good understanding of the rioters' grievances ... [t]heir great experience of people, and even of riots."87 The "every person" in Judge Cillié's imaginary and experience, however, was not the black woman or man on the street, but the white township administrator who acted as arbiter and mediator of "the rioters' grievances." Similarly, Cillié addressed himself to the commonsense knowledge of people who lived in his world, a world in which the police were to be trusted, and township officials were rational administrators of a just dispensation.

Cillié did not face an easy task. After hearing all the evidence about who did what first in those crucial early moments that transformed a peaceful protest march into a violent uprising, it seemed perfectly incongruous to Cillié that the police might have shot at students for any other reason than out of fear for their lives and "the Commission cannot accept that the police used firearms when everything was still calm and peaceful."88 Since the police did use firearms, it followed logically that the march could not have been "calm and peaceful." This moral slight of hand appealed directly to the assumption of all law abiding citizens that the police were beyond reproach and would always act in good faith and with a care for the protection of lives. This was, however, not an experience or an expectation that the people of Soweto shared. Cillié appealed to every readers' intuitive experience and understanding of desperation. Experience would also tell us, he wrote, that if "the police had fired as much and in such a way as was reported in the [dissenting] evidence, the list of fatalities would have been much longer."89

Privileged and Knowing Position of the Author

The Cillié Report needed to establish the integrity of its narrative logic, a logic whose gaps and internal contradictions showed that the official narrative could not completely or convincingly appropriate what really happened in Soweto and elsewhere. In order to maintain the rationality and authenticity of this process of inquiry, the integrity of its narrative logic90 was established by two interconnected techniques.

The privileged and knowing position of the author/judge was understood to guarantee the correctness of the findings. Where the judge's findings might appear to contradict the interpretations of contemporary witnesses, where persistent doubts were anticipated, or where the narrative appeared fragile, the judge invoked his own moral and judicial authority, knowledge, and experience to establish the credibility (or lack thereof) of the characters in the narrative. As the story unfolded and characters or groups of characters were introduced, the judge effectively asked his readers to trust his privileged judgment because he actually saw and heard the witnesses himself and was therefore in the best position to judge the believability of their testimony and their representations of events. Disturbing evidence from reporters about what happened immediately before and during the first shootings was put into a perspective favoring police credibility when Cillié stated that "[n]either [reporter] was very precise in his evidence." Police witnesses testified that the squad that first confronted the protesting children was surrounded by them. Reporters at the scene denied that this was even possible in the given terrain. Cillié conducted an inspection in loco and "the statement made by the police was accepted." When reporters testified that the police shot directly at the children, Cillié ruled that "the witnesses were overstating their certainty."91 The testimony of the few student witnesses the Commission heard was considered ambiguous at best.92 Witnesses stated that police had forced them to make false statements by using violence, the threat of violence, and even direct assault. Cillié concluded:

Whenever a witness deviates in a trial from a statement previously made by him, he loses some of his reliability as a witness … [H]is evidence can hardly be accepted, without reservation, as reliable.93

The report and the judge's findings were based on the assumption that those people who have access to the greatest number of descriptions and accounts of an event were understood both to be those with the most complete picture of what happened and those best situated, therefore, to decide contradictory descriptions. In this particular case, it was Judge Cillié, whose belief in his own privileged position, his own vantage point of knowing and judging, rendered him invulnerable to suggestions or doubts about the completeness of the picture that his vantage point of "the greatest number of descriptive items"94 accorded him and from which he was judging. (Compare with "ANC: Claiming Authority" in next section.)

Privileging of Narrative Time

The second important element in establishing the integrity of the narrative logic of the report was the privileging of narrative time. Narrative time needed to be carefully controlled and managed. One of the discursive methods by which conflicting accounts and interpretations of events—those intolerable alternative and unofficial versions of the story—were confronted, incorporated and suppressed in the officially approved version was the careful arrangement of elements of the story in the narrative text. Discrete parts of the story were organized sequentially or, alternatively, concurrent elements were dispersed in the narrative in such a way that the alternative, unofficial versions could gradually be dispelled and ultimately discredited or invalidated. The reader of the Cillié Report was confronted not with a phenomenology of events, which would have explained how police violence was coupled to further violence both in perception and reality, how the daily experience and reality of discrimination and dominance created a social and political powder-keg, how policies and practices might have been connected, but rather with an episodic history. The story of Soweto was fragmented and presented as a series of "moments," essentially separated into 28 temporally and geographically distinct areas, which were presented in as many chapters.95 Ironically, Cillié recognized that it was precisely because the moments of protest and warnings in the months up to and including June 16 were considered "episodes" that, individually, could be and were ignored that the "disaster" of the uprising was not averted:

In the absence of full details, no connection was seen between the incidents [a confrontation between students and police at Naledi High School on June 9, 1976] and the pupils' resistance to the medium of instruction.96

The fragmentation and separation of a story into episodes undermined a coherent picture or explanation and dismissed continuities and links. Again, in the Cillié Report, this allowed the judge to divide the first day into two distinct phases. The first, immediately following the shooting of Hector Pieterson, was characterized by several "acts of violence," among them retaliatory attacks on whites who had remained in Soweto. According to Cillié, these were caused by and directly related to the way the students' march had been stopped by police action.97 Cillié then clearly distinguished as a second phase—the "later riots"—which, according to him, were in no way caused by the actions of the police.98 At one point in the text, each of these phases were identified under separate headings: "3.10.20 Violence committed by demonstrators" and "3.10.22 Later riots."


While Cillié was critical of the lack of control that the organizers exerted over the demonstration, he did sympathize with the students, who must have been "filled with fury and frustration by the police violence that ended the march." Here he did not equivocate:

This led to acts of violence.99

Their [rioting scholars'] object was to hold a peaceful demonstration; the police intervened, dispersed them with tear-gas and shot at them; when fellow scholars were shot and killed in front of them, they decided to pay the Whites back in the same coin. Nor should the following facts be overlooked: The demonstrators had real or imagined grievances about education matters [which cannot be said for the adults and lawless street urchins, from p. 132]. They were ready for violence since they were prepared to meet police opposition with violence, many had seen photographs of White ill-treatment, and their march had a potential element of violence. There were inciters among them. The police stopped them, attacked them with tear-gas and batons, shot at them and killed two of their comrades, while they themselves were endangered. The police thwarted their plans. The Commission is of the opinion that there was no justification for their actions, but that all these factors gave rise to the eruption. The police action and the consequent fury and frustration were the immediate causes of the acts of violence. It cannot be said that police action was responsible for the later riots. [Emphasis added.]100

I have quoted this passage at length, not only because it illustrates my point but because, in the italicized sections, it was also an example of how Cillié laid the rhetorical groundwork for condemning the movement as having been the work of agitators (see "Representing Participants" below) and for demanding leniency for and forbearance of the police in light of the predicament they found themselves in.101

Related document:
Cillié Report: Abbreviations and definitions"

Two things happened with the temporal and theoretical division Cillié created: The police were held responsible,102 but only for an insignificant part of the uprising. It was "insignificant" not for what was to follow, or for the tragedy of the first four deaths and the rage of destruction these events would unleash, but rather in terms of the extent of destruction and the multitude of deaths in the months following compared to the first day of the uprising on June 16. The agents of the state could not be held responsible for what happened later—i.e., by defining and describing the two phases essentially as unrelated by fiat more than by real argument and evidence, blame could be assigned to the police for the smaller issues, while this provided the space to clear them from any wrongdoing in the larger ongoing crisis. (Compare with "ANC: Narrative Time" later in this chapter.)

Red Thread: The Confrontation

Considering Causes

The Cillié Report distinguished between the immediate causes103 and contributory background causes.104 The relationship between the two sets of causes was very much like the relationship between a spark and a powder keg. The spark may be the immediate cause of an explosion, but if the powder-keg, the equivalent of contributory background causes, is not present, no spark would be able to cause an explosion. The Commission found that the "riots of 16 June in Soweto" were caused by "a combination of the following circumstances": the application of the policy on the medium of instruction, which gave rise to misunderstanding and dissatisfaction among the people of Soweto; the students' planned and organized resistance to the policy on the medium of instruction; the ineffectual official handling of the resistance; and the inability of officials and the police to foresee the imminent uprising and to take effective countermeasures.105 The significant point about immediate causes was that they could be rectified and eliminated fairly easily, precisely because they were identified quickly:

If Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in Black schools had been the only cause of the riots, then, as a result of the rapid, decisive and clear-cut action taken by the Minister shortly after the start of the riots, there could be no reason for their continuation.106

While the minister's actions were characterized as not at all "rapid, decisive and clear-cut" by some,107 he unspoken part of Cillié's reasoning here rested on a recognition of the contributory background causes without which the uprising would not have continued. The official opposition identified these as "structural circumstances" that created and maintained the potential for "riots."108 If the powder keg remained, in other words, it was pointless to throw away the box of matches in an attempt to prevent the explosion.

Red Thread: Black Consciousness

The Commission identified a number of contributory causes,109 some of which led to dissatisfaction, which in turn was "stirred up and exploited by those who were bent on creating disturbances." And many of those causes behind the dissatisfaction could be blamed on the South African government or on its policies. For their part in "contributing to the causes of the riots or their continuation," Cillié first fastened on organizations: the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Pan-African Congress (PAC), the Black People's Convention (BPC), the South African Students' Organization (SASO), the South African Students' Movement (SASM), the Soweto Students' Representative Council (SSRC), and the Comrades. They "created a milieu in which youths listened to the agitators who were inciting them to violence," called on children or students "to fight the battles that their parents should have fought long ago," and organized "the resistance and the march [that] were the immediate cause of the riots." The SSRC and SASM were found to be "co-responsible for the rioting that broke out on 16 June" and "largely responsible for the fact that the riots did not abate sooner." Black Consciousness, which, according to Cillié, aimed "to make every Black man proudly conscious of his Blackness" and created the solidarity necessary for "black-conscious people … to liberate themselves spiritually and in actual fact," also "created a mood that was useful to agitators."110 Although Cillié here recognized the Other of the discourse, it was not for the purpose of legitimating but of disarmament.

Red Thread: Black Consciousness

The issue of influx control as a contributory factor provided a striking example of how Cillié set up an argument to simultaneously recognize and repair the deficiency in the legitimacy of apartheid policies. For Black South Africans, that deficiency was conspicuously evident in the destructive effects of the Bantu (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act of 1945,111 which was the linchpin of influx control and ruled the migration and urbanization of African residents.

There can surely not be many residents who have never come into conflict with these provisions or the persons who apply them, or who have never discussed these matters which, without doubt, caused dissatisfaction among them. An attitude of mind has been created. [Emphasis added.]112

By effectively managing the empirical description of influx control, one of the material and ideological causes of the crisis, Cillié could then subsequently appear to choose judiciously between whether or not the effects and matters of influx control were a cause, the main cause, or an underlying, contributory cause of the uprising. Systematic selection and transformation (e.g., attributing the failings of the influx-control system to the bad job some officials were doing in its administration) of elements of the story were developed in such a way as to invite the reader to collude in the rationality of the argument. With a brief summary of the Bantu (Urban Areas) Act,113 Cillié quickly established the judicial base for the policy of influx control and further justified the essential rectitude of such a law by describing its purpose as being both protective and preventative:

In the first place, the rights and privileges of Blacks lawfully living in White areas are protected. In the second place, the residential, industrial and social chaos that would result from an uncontrolled influx into the areas that are already overcrowded is prevented.114

Always careful to lay out both sides of the story, he then described both satisfaction and dissatisfaction among the African population and analyzed the measures that caused dissatisfaction and were the practical and material consequence of the policy. Where the law had adjusted to its failings, he was quick to point it out:

A widow who was lawfully in any area was not allowed to take over the house from her deceased husband and to occupy it with her children. This anomaly was removed in 1976.[Emphasis added]115

Ultimately he divined the essential rectitude and reasonableness of the policy, attributing the negative views and experiences of it application to the natural result of human error, to the unlawful and lamentable actions of the government's human agents of authority:

There are clear signs of dissatisfaction and resentment at the superior attitude adopted by some White officials in dealing with Blacks; their impatience sometimes borders on rudeness. There is dissatisfaction about midnight raids and the humiliating treatment of the head of a household in the presence of his family… [T]here are complaints about the incompetence of some officials who have to assist residents.116

There were many causes, such as the influence of political and military events in Southern Africa as a region117, that might not have been a direct cause of the uprising. But Cillié recognized them as having "helped to create a state of mind in which rebelliousness could easily be stirred up" or, as in the case of the role of resistance to homeland policy or of the dissatisfaction caused by the group-areas policy, as having "contributed to … a general mood of resistance and revolt."118 In one of his rare moments of clarity and insight,119 he took the position that the "modern urban Black" was deeply affected by all forms of discrimination, which created a "mood of dissatisfaction and rebellion" and bred a "great hatred in many": "In this frame of mind people easily resort to rioting, especially if there is no democratic means of redress available to them" (emphasis added).120

Perhaps as interesting are the causes that Cillié did not recognize as contributing to the revolt. "Except for the question of the medium of instruction, compulsory school attendance and free education, Bantu Education was not a cause of the riots," Cillié wrote, after carefully taking apart suggestions about the inferiority of and inequality inherent in the Bantu Education system. Considering that the ongoing boycott of secondary schools and the repeated clashes between schoolchildren and the police had resulted, by August 1977, in the virtual collapse of the system of Bantu Education in Johannesburg, this particular finding was clearly incongruous. Cillié's rulings were sometimes breathtakingly irresponsible, capricious, and hypocritical. It was, for example, alarming and ironic that the Commission was "satisfied" that the administration of justice in South Africa "did not create an attitude of mind in the Black population group that gave rise to rioting or that contributed to any appreciable extent to a climate of resistance and revolt."121 (See: "ANC: Causes" later in this chapter, Oliver Tambo's Speech, and Tebello Motapanyane)

Representing Participants

go back to paragraph #112 The temporal divisions in the Cillié Report outlined above, corresponded to another division, this time in the nature, character, and constituency of the uprising, allowing a completely different argument to be made, namely that the students' protest movement was commandeered by tsotsis, agitators, and other lawless exploiters of students. A similar slight of hand happened with regard to student and youth leaders. While Cillié grudgingly admired the abilities of the students to organize so extensively within stone's throw of the police,122 he drew on the metaphors of volatility and lack of control so easily associated with youth to discount their further involvement and the rapid abandonment of a legitimate cause, if not a legitimate or justified choice of action, to wholesale anarchy. The underlying argument was: if it could be proven that the uprising was taken over by tsotsis, agitators and inciters, then Cillié could discount the force of a new generation rising to resist the social order of apartheid.

Information about who exactly the participants in the uprising were—their ages, numbers, school status (higher, primary, non-school-going), their gender, place (geographic spread), whether they were tsotsis—was impressionistic,123 although the Cillié Report devoted much space and thought to descriptions of the crowds; to the definitions, particularly to the construction of the meaning of the word child; and to the clarification of who the participants were:

It was mainly during the first three days of the riots that young children were involved. Witnesses said that they had seen young children throw stones, sometimes seen them making off with bottles. Returns show that 22 children died in the riots. Seventeen between the ages of four and thirteen died as a result of police action. Four of them died during incidents of stone-throwing, one during the looting of a shop, two were killed by ricocheting bullets, and one died in a general attack on the police. The circumstances in which the other nine died could not be established. Five children who were all under the age of four years died as a result of other people's actions. Four of them died when the houses in which they happened to be were set on fire, and one was run over by a bus.124

According to Cillié, youths "fomented" rioting; tsotsis, students, and teachers were "roped in"; some adults "whipped up" young people to rebellious action; and youth "incited" schoolchildren and students to violence. Despite Cillié's barely masked prejudice against the actions of the children of Soweto, much about the difficulties inherent in defining, describing, and determining who it was exactly who participated in the uprising was revealed in the sections of the report entitled "Participants" (Cillié Report, volume 1, part B, "The Riots"). Early on in the report, Cillié provided a series of definitions of terms to be used. A pupil or scholar, he wrote, was any person being taught at primary or secondary schools; a student was any person being taught at "a university, training college or other tertiary educational institutions." Well aware of how easily the terms became mixed up—and presumably led to confusion—in common usage, Cillié added that the word "student, as commonly used during the riots for 'scholar', does not include 'scholar' in this report." Finally, youths meant "young people" of both sexes.125 Related document:
Cillié Commission Report, Part A, Chapter 7, "Abbreviations and definitions," 35-36 But it is quickly apparent that definitions were at once more elusive and inclusive than those simple definitions initially allowed for: "The following are included under the term young people, as used here: Pre-school-going children, schoolchildren, youths who had already left school and were working or were unemployed, and tsotsis." Worse even, it was not always easy to distinguish between these groups.

To begin with, African children did not go to school until they were at least 7 years old, and often they were older. In the second place, it was not uncommon to find students who were 20 years and older at school.126 In some "exceptional" cases, this could also happen in higher primary schools. At the time of the uprising there were some higher primary schools that had such older students in their eighth-grade classes.127 Young people, who had already left school, Cillié's "post-school youths," were even harder to distinguish. If tsotsis, South Africa's closest equivalent to "hoodlums, vandals, and other criminal elements"128 in the United States, were defined as "youthful won't works, adult gangsters, young drop-outs"129 who dressed in a particularly slovenly way, then describing someone as "post-school youth" because of their dress may actually have missed a tsotsi precisely because "the tsotsi does not always wear the clothing that is considered characteristic of his kind,"130 as is amply clear from anecdotal accounts and from the following definition: "A usually flashily dressed black street thug, frequently a member of a gang: see also skolly, pantsula, okapi and spoilers… From potso-tso stove-pipe pants."131

As a result, Cillié pointed out, witnesses' observations and their conclusions both about age and about status or occupation were not always accurate or reliable" in terms of the identity and role of the person observed or described.132 In his testimony, Christopher Prophet, a reporter for the newspaper The Argus, acknowledged that witnesses would have had "great difficulty" in judging crowd numbers or the ages of children and that "crowd assessment" would have of necessity been impressionistic and personal.132

Generally, Cillié distinguished between seven categories—"(young) children … between the ages of four and thirteen;" "scholars" who were "children who went to school," "schoolchildren" or "pupils;" "youths … under the age of 18;" "tsotsis" and "vagrants"; "adult men and women"; "principals and teachers"; and, finally, "organisations" such as the Soweto Students' Representative Council (SSRC) formerly known as SASM's (South African Students' Movement's) Action Committee, whose members organized the student march and demonstration on the morning of June 16. As the uprising spread to other black areas, such as Alexandra township, "coloureds" were seen among those who attacked, looted, and set fire to shops, while fires were set at schools in the Coloured township Lenasia.134


As a consequence, the official discourse of the state about the uprising could easily homogenise the participants into a "crowd," subsuming and stereotyping the individual. Uncertainty and lack of data, compounded by political expediency and ideological agendas, allowed for the emergence of heated debates about some of the characteristics of the participants. For the government and its officials, it was less interesting whether the participants were high-school or primary-school students, but both the ages of the participants and their status (school-going or non-school-going) were important. It was in the government's interest to prove that the participants in the uprising were older, not only to deflect local and international criticism of its brutal treatment of schoolchildren but also to lend credence to its argument that the uprising had been instigated and fuelled by outside adult agitators. It was also in its interest to show that many of the participants had been tsotsis, youthful vagrants and delinquents who indeed terrorized many ordinary people of Soweto, thus presenting an explanation of criminal rather than political intent for the "rioting," looting, and vandalism.

The Cillié Report did not at first include parents as a separate category, roughly including them under the category adults, but it did prominently note that "the riotous conduct of the scholars did not meet with the approval of all the parents." Parents at times came looking for their children and punished them for participating in roadblocks and demonstrations. In some cases police officers handed "young rioters" directly over to their parents for "a hiding."135

Daar bestaan absoluut geen twyfel dat die oorweldigende meerderheid van die volwasse Swart mense lojaal en simpatiek teenoor die polisie gestaan het nie. Dit was net so duidelik dat die intimidasie van die jeug en die tsotsi element, asook hulle gruweldade, die volwassenes met vrees en afkeur vervul het. Nogtans het dit dikwels gebeur dat die polisie eenkant toe geroep was en inligting oorgedra was in verband met die onlusmakers… 'n Paar keer het die polisie van die Bantoe jeugdiges wat aan die onluste deelgeneem het, aan hulle ouers oorhandig. In sulke gevalle was groot dank teenoor die polisie uitgespreek en die betrokkenes deur hulle ouers goed afgeransel. Dit het ook dikwels gebeur dat die volwassenes vir die polisie op wagdiens tee en kos aangedra het en ek verwys hier na Bantoes.

There is absolutely no doubt that the overwhelming majority of adult Black people faced the police with loyalty and sympathy. It was equally clear that the intimidation of youth and the tsotsi element, as well as their atrocities, filled the adults with fear and aversion. Nevertheless, it happened frequently that the police were called aside and given information in connection with the rioters… A few times the police handed over youth who had taken part in the riots to their parents. In those cases great thanks were expressed to the police, and the persons involved were thrashed well by their parents. It also happened frequently that the adults brought tea and food to policemen on watch and I am referring here to Bantu.136

What's this?

In an effort to stop the uprising, the South African police almost immediately started arresting those whom they considered leaders or participants. The first to be rounded up were more "figureheads than real leaders":137Winnie Mandela, Percy Qoboza, T. W. Kambule, Dr. Nanaoth Ntshuntsha (who later died in detention), Dr. Nthatho Motlana, Jan Tugwana, Wellington Tshazibane (an Oxford and Fort Hare graduate who also died in detention), Peter Magubane, Leonard Mosala (whose brother died in detention in Butterworth) and his wife, Dr. Aaron Matlhare, as well as numerous journalists, poets, students, schoolchildren, and leaders of the BPC, SASO, BPA, and even UBC. Many were "prominent" or "outstanding black citizens,"138 but many more were students, schoolchildren, and ordinary people.

Under the new Internal Security Amendment Act No. 79 of 1976, which replaced legislation previously entitled Suppression of Communism, the government, or the security police, could detain "in custody in a prison … any person [who] is engaging in activities which endanger or are calculated to endanger the security of the State or the maintenance of public order."139 It was called preventative detention and presumably was intended to protect, but the police routinely tortured those they detained to reveal what they knew.

Persons Believed to Be in Detention in Terms of Security Legislation As at 30 November
ConnectionDate of DetentionTotals
Jan.-MayJuneJulyAug.Sept.Oct.Nov.Date unknown
School Pupils-31313111213-56
Student Leaders, SASO, SASM,
SRC Office Bearers
Other Black Consciousness Organisations----2031-125
Other Black Community Organisations
and Workers
Teachers and Lecturers-12-87314-35
State Witnesses2124---1--1460
Labour Party-----1---1
Trade Unionists-1--14---6


What are personal statements?

Personal Statements are essays that you write for most college admissions and applications and scholarship applications. They may be short essays (200-500 words) or longer essays (900 words). Generally, essays should be typed, double spaced with a font no smaller than a 10. One page is usually equal to 250 words.

Why do I need one?

Most admissions applications and scholarship applications require a personal statement or answers to short essay or long essay questions. This is your best chance to tell readers about you. Use the personal statement for either college admissions or scholarship applications to highlight your personal experiences. Statements also give reviewers a chance to see your writing skills.

When will I write one?

Most applications are due between November and February of your senior year in high school.

What does a personal statement look like?

The suggested format is two pages, double spaced, typed and follows this structure:

  • Introduction

  • Body

  • Conclusion

When writing a personal statement, use standard formatting; it is more important to demonstrate that you can say what you need to say concisely than to be exhaustive.

How do I write one?

In your writing, make sure you are answering the question posed. You should support your main ideas with the best example or anecdote. Be sure to include only relevant details and use smooth transitions to tie your essay together. The process of writing a personal statement could be broken into steps:

  • Step One: READ application thoroughly and ANSWER the specific questions posed by each application. It is tempting to use the same statement for every application, but you may limit yourself this way. If a particular addmissions application asks a question about something that you do not address, you will lose points!

  • Step Two: Give yourself enough time to review and revise and especially to get someone else to review it for you. If you give an outside reader a very short window to read and give feedback you may not get the best results, or you may not get it back in time to use the feedback constructively.

  • Step Three: Review the rough draft yourself. Give the draft to a peer and an adult (teacher, counselor, parent) to review at the same time you are reviewing your draft even if it isn't your best work. Things to keep in mind when reviewing your draft: 

    • Did I answer the question?

    • Spell check

    • Check the writing tips against your writing

  • Step Four: Incorporate feedback from others; make corrections.

  • Step Five: Read it once more, if you have time, have someone else read it once more.

  • Step Six: Finalize the draft by incorporating the last revisions.

  • Step Seven: Make photocopies as well as keeping an electronic copy if possible. The last thing you want to do is start all over if your hard drive craches, you lose your disk or your application is lost in the mail.  

What do I write about?

Some applications give very open ended questions. Here are some suggestions for organizing your thoughts into a coherent essay:

  • What are your goals? Why did you choose thest goals?

  • Why did you choose to apply to this college/for this scholarship?

  • What are your values and philosophy about education? Why?
  • Is there one or two accomplishment(s), either in school or outside of school that you are particularly proud of? What have you learned from these experiences?
  • Do you have a time-management system? What is it?
  • How do you schedule your time to include both academic and social activities?
  • What difficulties or disadvantages have you faced in your life and how have you overcome them? What is one area in which you are weak and how have you or do you plan to overcome that weakness? (Keep this very brief.)
  • Identify a leadership experience and talk about what the most important lessons of the position and experience.
  • What makes you unique?




  • Speak from the heart. These personal statements are likely to be read by some administrator or adviser, not an academician or professor, so don't try to simply impress the reader with fancy verbiage or rhetoric.
  • Get personal. Don't be afraid to tear at the heartstrings of your reader. Colleges nowadays are looking for people who both think and feel.
  • Try to introduce new ideas in a comical way. A personal statement that makes people laugh is better than a personal statement that doesn't evoke any emotion.
  • Check your work. Don't be happy with just the first draft, you should have learned better than that in high school. Find someone you feel comfortable and qualified letting revise your personal statement and give it to them.
  • Colleges really do use and read these personal statements, so make sure to put some real effort into it.
  • Consult with your college counselor and/or English teacher if you are having trouble


  • Make sure to use proper grammar. Nothing looks worse to an administrator than a potential student saying "Thank you for considering excepting me into your college."
  • Be careful disclosing crimes you may have committed, you are not legally protected from self incrimination through these personal statements. Also, I doubt any college would want to hear about "the time you knocked off a Piggly Wiggly."
  • Remember that if you are trying to be funny, that sarcasm doesn't read well so try to use outright humor instead


Click here for a personal statement sample.



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