Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Soweto Uprising (South Africa)

On 16 June 1976, black youths took to the streets of Soweto (South Western Township, Johannesburg) in a peaceful protest against Buntu Education. What followed was a series of clashes between the youths and the South African authorities against the Apartheid regime and policies.

This photograph of Hector Pieterson was taken by Sam Nzima.

From 1974, black students were required by to study in Afrikaans, for maths and social sciences, and English, for practical subjects (e.g. needlework and art), while indigenous languages would be used for religion and music. During the Apartheid era, Afrikaans was regarded as the language of the oppressor.

On the morning of 16 June, between 3000 and 10 000 black students took to the streets and headed for Orlando Stadium for a rally to protest against Bantu Education, the protest was intended to be peaceful.
When met the police on their route, the student leaders asked the crowd not to provoke the police, however according to the testimony of Colonel
Kleingeld, the police officer who fired the first shot (which was corroborated by eyewitnesses from both sides), some students started throwing stones at the police, police attempted to calm the crowd verbally, and tried to disperse the students using dogs and tear gas, but to no effect. One of the police dogs were caught, set alight and beaten to death. When police saw they were surrounded by the students, they fired shots into the crowed, at which point pandemonium broke out.

Kleingeld drew his handgun and fired a shot, causing panic and chaos. Students started screaming and running and more gunshots were fired. The first person to be shot Hastings Ndlovu, followed by 13-year-old Hector Pieterson. The photograph taken of his body became a symbol of police brutality (see image above)

The rioting continued and 23 people, including two whites, died on the first day in Soweto. Among them was Dr Melville
Edelstein, who had devoted his life to social welfare among blacks. He was stoned to death by the mob and left with a sign around his neck proclaiming 'Beware Afrikaaners'.

The accounts of how many people died vary from 200 to 700, with Reuters news agency currently reporting there were "more than 500" fatalities in the 1976 riots. The original government figure claimed only 23 students were killed. The number of wounded was estimated to be over a thousand people.

This image of Hector
Pieterson became a symbol, internationally, of the South African Apartheid regime's brutal force and contributed to a major international outcry and further isolated the country both diplomatically and economically.

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