Ten things about June 16 1976
1. June 16 was the first day of what came to be called the Soweto uprising. It began there but spread to other townships around the country and continued until year-end in the face of harsh state repression.
2. Bantu education was set up in 1953, five years after the National Party came to power on the apartheid platform. Bantu education was a project of the department of native affairs to cater specifically to black people. Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, then the minister of native affairs and later prime minister, said that the policy would educate black people to know their place in society: “Natives must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans [whites] is not for them.”
3. According to South African History Online, Bantu education did provide more education for more black people than ever before. But the facilities were meagre and soon overcrowded. “No new high schools were built in Soweto between 1962 and 1971. Students were meant to move to their relevant homeland to attend the newly built schools there.” However, in 1972, the government heeded business calls for a better-trained workforce and built 40 new schools in Soweto. Over the next four years, the numbers of pupils attending high school in Soweto tripled and, in 1976, “257505 pupils enrolled in form one [the former standard six], but there was space for only 38 000”.
4. The education given was very unequal: “The government spent R644 a year on a white child’s education but only R42 on a black child.”
5. A state plan for black pupils to be taught key subjects in Afrikaans began in 1974 and was taking effect in 1976. Pupils and teachers objected to having to learn and teach in “the language of the oppressor”.
6. Pupils at the Orlando West Junior School went on strike in April 1976. An action committee was formed and a mass protest was planned for June 16. The committee became the Soweto Students’ Representative Council and part of the broader Black Consciousness Movement.
7. On June 16 1976, police blocked the movement of 10 000 to 20 000 pupils towards the Orlando Stadium. In a confrontation near Orlando High, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was killed and, through the photograph by Sam Nzima, became an icon of the uprising.
8. The June 1976 death toll was 176, at least 23 deaths occurred on the first day. Thousands were injured. The police ordered township hospitals to report anyone receiving treatment for gunshot wounds, but doctors listed the wounds as abscesses.
9. Pupils’ placards read: “Down with Afrikaans” and “If we must do Afrikaans, [Prime Minister John] Vorster must do Zulu.”
10. The Soweto protest emboldened students across other schools and universities in South Africa to mobilise against the status quo. It inspired a nationwide uprising against apartheid oppression.