Student uprising in soweto 40 years ago: the beginning of the end of apartheid

June 16, 1976 marked the end of the white apartheid regime. White police fired into the crowd of protesting schoolchildren.

The Hector Pieterson memorial in Soweto Photo: dpa

The only reminder of the site of the bloody uprising in Soweto is a memorial to Hector Pieterson. The young student was shot dead by police officers of the apartheid regime during the demonstrations in the South African township on June 16, 1976. His photo went around the world: the twelve-year-old boy is carried in the arms of a student with his face consumed by grief. Hector Pieterson has become synonymous with the oppression of black South Africans.

The story of the 1976 protest day in Soweto, described by historians as the "beginning of the end" of apartheid, is told by a museum right next to Pieterson’s memorial stone in the Orlando West neighborhood. There, tourists hear tales of the dramatic events that took place in the township at that time. There, anger erupted when the regime introduced Afrikaans, the Boer language, as the language of instruction. The students were not prepared to put up with the humiliation of learning the language of their oppressors.

15,000 children and young people marched through the streets with banners reading "Down with Afrikaans." The brutal white police responded with absolute violence – shooting into the crowd of school children. The riots claimed many lives. The next day, protests against racist education policies spread across the country.

Forty years later, South Africa is once again experiencing uprisings of young people who express their frustration and anger not only by throwing stones as they did in Soweto. They are rioting in the universities, setting fire to schools and teaching institutions, vandalizing libraries and demanding the abolition of tuition fees.

The country is in its greatest political and economic crisis since apartheid. The young people are self-confidently demanding a fairer future and are resisting the inability of their black and often corrupt government, as well as erroneous white models in South African society.

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