June 16 1976 Uprising

In Current Affairs, South Africa


The June 16 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread across the country profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid era government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953

On the morning of 16 June 1976, close to 20 000 black students walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium for a rally to protest against having to be taught in Afrikaans at school. Many students who later participated in the protest arrived at school that morning without prior knowledge of the protest, yet agreed to become involved. The protest was planned by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee, with support from the wider Black Consciousness Movement. Teachers in Soweto also supported the march after the Action Committee emphasised good discipline and peaceful action.

Tsietsi Mashinini led students from Morris Isaacson High School to join other students who had walked from Naledi High School. The students began the march only to find out that police had barricaded the route along which their march was to take place. The leader of the action committee asked the crowd not to provoke the police and an alternative route was then used by the students to continue their march, eventually ending up near Orlando High School. The crowd of about 10 000 students…  made their way towards the area of the school. Students sang and waved placards with slogans such as, “Down with Afrikaans”, “Viva Azania” and “If we must do Afrikaans, Vorster must do Zulu

The police set a dog on the protesters, who then responded by killing it. The police then began to shoot directly at the children.

The violence escalated – bottle stores and beer halls that were seen as outposts of the apartheid government—were targeted and vandelized. The violence abated by nightfall with police vans and armoured vehicles patrolled the streets throughout the night.

Emergency clinics were swamped with injured and bloody children. The police requested that the hospital provide a list of all victims with bullet wounds to prosecute them for rioting. The hospital administrator passed this request to the doctors, but the doctors refused to create the list. Doctors recorded bullet wounds as abscesses.

The 1,500 heavily armed police officers deployed to Soweto on 17 June carried weapons including automatic rifles, stun guns, and carbines. They drove around in armoured vehicles with helicopters monitoring the area from the sky. The South African Army was also ordered to remain on standby as a tactical measure to show military force. Crowd control methods used by South African police at the time included mainly dispersement techniques.

The march was halted and some people helped Tietsi Mashinini climb up onto a tractor so that everyone could see him when he addressed the crowd:

Brothers and Sisters, I appeal to you-keep calm and cool. We have just received a report that the police are coming. Don’t taunt them, don’t do anything to them. Be cool and calm. We are not fighting.”

The official death toll was 23, but it could have been higher than 200 because the incident triggered widespread violence throughout South Africa, which claimed more lives

We remember our  fallen heroine and heroes: Tshabalala Sarah,  Maseko  Sara, Hastings Ndlovu  Hector Pieterson, Teboho “Tsietsi” Mashinini, Khambule Godfrey, Khumalo, Daniel, Lengwathi Patrick Themba, Masinga David,  Khubeka Hilton, Patrick Petrus, Vilakazi Moses, Zondo Simon Gosson, 

We would love to live you with the powerful words from Solomon Mahlangu:

‘My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.’



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