Remembering Soweto, 1976

On June 16, 1976, in Soweto, South Africa, police opened fire on school children that were protesting the apartheid law requiring them to change the language in which they received their lessons to Afrikaans (the language of the South African whites).  This law was part of the Bantu Education Act of 1953. The author of the legislation, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, said, “Natives must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans is not for them.”

A student wrote to The World [newspaper] an explanation of the protest . . .

“Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”

A classroom boycott with students from five schools marching out of class was the first action taken on this issue. The students met at the Bantu Education Department. The Bantu Education Department officials called in the police. Banned together the students asked to speak to the regional director of education, and the officials locked themselves in a closet. Feeling empowered the students turned over police cars. They were arrest and held in adult facilities where they were beaten by police.

Over 400 students held a meeting to discuss their next step in the protest. They swore not to reveal their plan to their parent for fear the parents would try to stop them.

On June 16, students sang Nkosi Sikeleli ‘iAfrika, (God Bless Africa) as a signal to walk out of class. Students from five schools assembled at different points in Soweto with plans to meet at the Orlando Football Stadium to pledge their solidarity and sing  Nkosi Sikeleli ‘iAfrika. There were reports of 15,000 to 20,000 students marching that morning.

Police formed a line to block the students access to the stadium. They ordered the students to disperse. The students refused. Police dogs were sent to attack, and teargas was fired on the students. The students responded with rocks and bottles found on the street. Without any warning the police returned bullets killing 23 and injuring hundreds.

One student returns 34 years later to remember . . .

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