Remembrance: 16 June 1976 Soweto Massacre

Soweto uprising: children walking peacefully (Source:

The Soweto massacre or Soweto uprisings also known as June 16, were some of the biggest massacre of the apartheid regime in South Africa, mostly because it showed police repression against kids.  On June 16, 1976, Black high school children in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans medium decree of 1974 which forced the schools to use Afrikaans as one of the main languages in schools (50-50 with English): Afrikaans was to be used to teach mathematics, arithmetic, etc…  In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, many people preferred English as the school language, the commerce language, etc, because of the violence attached with Afrikaans which was the language of the oppressor.

Soweto Uprising (
Soweto Uprising: children running away (Source:

On June 16, 1976, over 20,000 school children took part in protests which left over 700 dead (the official numbers say 176, but we all know that this number could not be further from the truth).  On that bright morning, 10,000 – 20,000 black students walked from their schools to Orlando stadium for a peaceful rally against the use of Afrikaans, the oppressor’s language, in school.  The protest had been carefully planned by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee, with support from the Black Consciousness Movement, and teachers from Soweto.  The students were marching and they found out that police had barricaded the road along the intended route.  The leader of the SSRC action committee then asked the crowd not to provoke the police, and the march went on on a different route, eventually ending up near Orlando High School.  The students were marching, singing, and waving placards with slogans such as, “Down with Afrikaans“, “Viva Azania“, and “If we must do Afrikaans, Vorster must do Zulu.”

Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)
Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)

One officer shot and fired his gun causing panic and chaos.  Students started screaming and running, as more gunshots were being fired, and the police let out their dogs on children who responded by stoning the dogs.  The police then began to shoot directly at the children.  One of the first students to be shot dead was 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who became the symbol of the Soweto uprisings.  The picture of his dead body being carried away by another student while his sister ran beside them in tears, was captured by news photographer Sam Nzima, and made it worldwide.  The police patrolled the streets throughout the night as the students came under intense attack.  Emergency clinics were swamped with injured and bloody children.  The police requested the hospitals to provide a list of all victims with bullet wounds, but the doctors refused to create the list, and recorded bullet wounds as abscesses.  On the 17th of June, 1,500 heavily armed police officers were deployed to Soweto carrying automatic rifles, stun guns, and carbines.  They were driving in armored vehicles with helicopters, while the South African army was ordered on standby… for repression onto school children.

In the end, the Soweto uprising established the leading role of African National Congress (ANC) against the apartheid regime; it marked the turning point in the opposition to white rule in South Africa.  Formerly, the struggle had been fought outside South Africa, in neighboring countries (Rhodesia – Zimbabwe, South-West Africa – Namibia, and Angola), but from that moment forward, the struggle became internal as well as external.

June 16th is now celebrated in South Africa as a public holiday.  Enjoy this quick collage about the events of June 16th, and please remember to commemorate the lives of innocent children killed on this day in South Africa, children whose future were ended too early.  Don’t forget to check out these articles on BBCLibcom.orgSouth Africa Info, and watch the video on Independent Lens on PBS.