Soweto Riots: The Day our Children Lost Faith

What happened on 16 June 1976?

By Africa Media Online

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

It began as a peaceful protest

On 16 June 1976, an estimated 20,000 children from schools in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg, took to the streets to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in local schools. Afrikaans was seen by many as the language of the oppressor. The Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50-50 mix as languages of instruction.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

Supported by students and teachers

On June 16 learners gathered at Orlando Stadium in a protest organised by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee. The protest was supposed to be peaceful and many teachers supported it after the Action Committee emphasised discipline.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

"Viva Azania"

When the march began, learners marched carrying signs "Down with Afrikaans", "Viva Azania" and "If we must do Afrikaans, Vorster must do Zulu". They found that their route had been barred by police.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

Orlando High School

The leaders of the Action Committee asked marchers not to provoke the police and the march continued on another route, eventually ending up near Orlando High School.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

176 people were killed

The confrontation between learners and police got out of hand when police released dogs onto the crowd who responded by stoning the dogs to death. Police then began to open fire on the children. Over 176 people were killed that day. Protests quickly spread to townships all over the country.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Graeme Williams / South Photos

The iconic image of the Soweto uprising

The image of 13 year old Hector Pieterson, who was the first child shot dead by apartheid police during the Soweto uprising, has become an iconic image.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Graeme Williams / South Photos

Hector Pieterson was carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo.

Soweto riots (1976-06-16)Original Source: Graeme Williams / South Photos

The photo was taken by news photographer Sam Nzima.

Soweto riots (2004-09-01)Original Source: Motlhalefi Mahlabe / South Photos

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto

The Soweto Riots, or Soweto Uprising as it is now known, galvanised resistance to apartheid both within and without South Africa.

June the 16th is commemorated in South Africa as National Youth Day.

Credits: Story

Photographic Archive — Baileys African History Archive
Photographer — Graeme Williams / South Photographs
Photographer — David Goldblatt / South Photographs
Photographer — Motlhalefi Mahlabe / South Photographs
Text — Baileys African History Archive and Africa Media Online

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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