Thursday, June 16, 2016

Soweto Riots 1976-06-16

The day our children lost faith

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 day Our Kids Lost Faith - marching Kids, in a mood common to school kids the world over, happy that they were not in class, good naturedly protesting against the use of Afrikaans a amedium of instruction at their schools. They march from Naledi Township, at the south western end of Soweto, collecting others on their route to Orlando East, the north eastern end of the vast complex. If the police had not tried to wrest the posters from the children, if they had not tried to arrest any of them, if they had not tried to set dogs on to them, if they had not fired shots, June 16 would not have been as black a day as it turned out to be. (Photograph by Mike Mzileni Baileys Archives)

Birth is just the beginning of a lifetime of struggle for acceptance, experience, knowledge, independence, and mutual respect and understanding in the world. 
- Jon Dunnemann