On June 16, 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.
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 emphasized discipline.
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. 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.
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.
The image of Hector Petersen (13), who was one of the first children shot dead by apartheid police during the Soweto Uprising, being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, has became an iconic image of this day. The photo was taken by news photographer, Sam Nzima.
Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto. The Soweto Riots, or Soweto Uprising as it is now known, galvanized resistance to apartheid both within and without South Africa. June the 16th is commemorated in South Africa as National Youth Day.
Photographic Archive—Baileys African History Archive