On 16th June 1976

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Students said, “No Afrikaans”

On the 16th June ten years ago people went home at the end of the day, as always. But when they turned on their radios and opened their newspapers, they knew South Africa would never be the same again. The extra late edition of the World newspaper said,

4 DEAD, 11 HURT AS KIDS RIOT

At least four people are said to be dead and 14 hurt in Soweto today. Police clashed with some 10 000 school kids who marched through the streets of the township. They were protesting against being taught some subjects in Afrikaans.
One of the dead is a student, the other is an old man, who died from a stray bullet.
A policeman was also said to be dead and a white motorist was stabbed to death. His car was stoned and set on fire. In Phefeni a police car was stoned and set on fire. But the driver escaped unhurt.
Among the people hurt were two students – one was shot in the leg and the other has a bullet wound in the back.
Police and school kids clashed near Belle Higher Primary School, Orlando West.
About 300 policemen fired hundreds of rounds into the air as they tried to stop the riots. Kids threw stones at the police.
Police also shot at more than 1000 pupils from Naledi west of Soweto. The Naledi pupils were marching to join the other rioting pupils.
Many of the 50 police cars which raced to the scene of the riot had their windscreens broken by the angry students.

This story was written by Sophie Tema and the photographs were taken by Sam Nzima. These photographs were used all over the world.

Sam Nzima talks about what they saw. “We were covering the great march by students from Naledi High to Morris Isaacson High, then to Orlando West High. It was just an ordinary, peaceful march. Then the police arrived.

“They told the children to stop. The students started singing ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’. We were in the middle of the crowd.

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Students after a meeting at Regina Mundi

Then a white policeman ordered his men to fire, and all hell broke loose. Many students surrounded the police, others ran to a nearby hill and started throwing stones at the police.

“We ran to our car. During the shooting I saw a young man and a young woman running towards the car. They were carrying a student who was bleeding badly. I took a lot of pictures.

“They asked for help. We rushed him in our car to a clinic, but the student was already dead.

“Then we went on to the newspaper office. We were shaking. But we had to write the story and print the pictures.”

The death of the student, Hector Petersen, shocked South Africa and the world. But it started a new chapter in the history of South Africa. The unrest didn’t stop on June 16th.
Between June 1976 and February 1977, 700 people died. 4 000 people were hurt. 6 000 people were arrested. And people think that 4 000 students left South Africa to join the African National Congress.

STUDENTS TALK

PETRUS – A FORM 2 STUDENT AT MADIBANE HIGH IN 1976
“A week before 16th June, the principal told us that we had to learn in Afrikaans. We felt angry because we did not understand Afrikaans well. How could we learn in Afrikaans? We had meetings at school. Then we decided to come together with other schools. All the students agreed – no Afrikaans.

“On the 15th June we went from school to school, telling students to join the march the next day. On the 16th we never went to classes. We went to meet the Morris Isaacson students. But they had to pass the Meadowlands Police Station and we had to pass the Orlando Police Station.

“We never met. The police stopped the students from ‘deep Soweto’. The Diepkloof students split up in Orlando East. Taxi drivers told us that the police had stopped the other students.

“The next day we went to school, but we had no lessons. We got a message from the other Diepkloof schools to meet them. So we marched again.Some people wanted to attack bottle stores on the way. Students felt that liquor was killing our people.

“But then some students said we must meet with the students from other schools. Together we must decide what to attack. So we marched to Orlando. On the way we stoned WRAB offices. The police came. Some people ran away but others were caught.

“I was caught. I can’t tell you what I felt. I did not know what the police would do to us. They put us into a land rover and took us to a bigger van. That van smelt of liquor. They packed us like sardines. We had to lie down, then they made others lie on top of us. Some people were wounded.

“At about midday they took us to the Orlando Police Station. In the charge office, they took our names and addresses. Most people gave wrong names. Then they said we must li~ flat. They walked on top of us for about 2 – 3 hours.

“Then they took us to another room. They hit us with batons. When people wanted to go to the toilet, they were told to wee into their hands and not to mess the floor.

“Luckily the following morning some policemen felt sorry for the little kids who were with us. These kids were betweeen 9 and 14 years old. The police told us to take them home. When we got out, some people could not see and others could walk properly. We could not help those who were badly hurt to get home.

“My parents were very happy to see me. I went back to school but I was a new person. Before I was a child but after my arrest, I felt like an old person. I began to know what was happening around the country. And I knew what I wanted and what I did not want as a human being.”

PHINDI MAVUSO – 1976 VICTIM
“In 1976, I was 14 years old. I was doing Form 2 at Kwa-Mahlobo in Zone 10, Meadowlands.

“One day during the riots, I heard one of my friends was detained. Soon after that I heard that he had died in prison.His name was Jacob Mashabane. His funeral was on the 24th of October.

“My friends and I wanted to go to the funeral. People at the funeral were singing freedom songs. When we reached the graveyard at Doornkop, the police were waiting outside. One policeman spoke in Afrikaans. I did not understand what he said. I think he said we must go home. But people went on with their singing.

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Running from some Teargas

“The policemen fired teargas. We started running in all directions. Then the policemen started shooting. As I was running I felt a pain in my right leg. But I did not stop until I found a place to hide under some trees.

“When I opened my eyes, I was in hospital. The doctors said they had to cut off my leg. I stayed in hospital for six months. Then I was well enough to go home.

“I could not find a place in a school. When they heard I was shot at a funeral, they all said their schools were full. But I wrote my matric – I did three subjects in 1979 and three subjects in 1980. Now I am working at the Self Help Association for Paraplegics (SHAP).

“It is very difficult to say if South Africa has changed in the last ten years. I think that people, the youth, have lost their patience. It seems they get angrier everyday. For me the last ten years have been difficult. And I cannot say what is going to happen in the future, really.

ANTOINETTE THANDI PIETERSON – SISTER OF HECTOR PIETERSON
“In 1976 I was a Form 2 student at Thesele Secondary School in White City. On 16th June, I was at Orlando West with the other students. When the shooting started, I hid in the trees.

“At about 11o’clock I came out of the trees and saw, Hector, my younger brother. Hector was twelve at this time. He was at Itheteng Higher Primary School. It was the first time I saw him that day.

“I called him over and told him to stay with me. Soon I saw he was no longer standing where I told him to stand. Three minutes later I heard a shot. I ducked down together with other people.

“I saw about four or five boys carrying a person. I recognised Hector’s shoes. I pushed people aside, telling them that the person was my brother. A boy in overalls took Hector and ran to some nearby cars. I followed him.

“The boy in overalls told the driver of one of the cars that Hector was finished. But the woman there said we must take Hector to the clinic. So I got in the car with Hector and the boy in overalls.

“At Phefeni clinic, two doctors looked at Hector. Then they called me to them. They told me Hector was dead. They asked for the name and address of my family.

“I stayed at the clinic for two hours. Then two teachers came to fetch me. They said they would take me home. When I got home only my grandmother was there. They told her about Hector’s death. Then I went with my brother, Vuse to Meadowlands where we found my mother. We told her what happened to Hector.

“Later the police told me that Hector killed one of their dogs.”

A TEACHER TALKS
CURTIS NKONDO – then principal of Lamula Jubilee Junior Secondary School.
“I knew about the march a week beforeJune 16th.” said Curtis. “Teachers were very angry about Afrikaans. Many of them did not know Afrikaans well enough to use it to teach. And we felt that Afrikaans would make studying even more difficult for the students.

“On the 16th June, I went to the school board offices in Dube. I passed the students on the way. They were already in Orlando. Then I went over a bridge. On the other side of the bridge I saw the police.

“When I heard the news that night, I could not believe that the police shot at the kids.

“I wanted to stop teaching before the march – but I did not want to leave my students. The inspectors were worrying me because we refused to use Afrikaans at our school.

“So I did not care if I was fired. Lamula became the place where the SSRC – the Soweto Students Representative Council- met. I spoke to them about Afrikaans and Bantu education. I once went to a student meeting in the veld near Naledi. No-one knew that I was a principal – they would have been very surprised if they did know.

“It was very difficult to teach for the rest of 1976. Some days the children came, some days there were no children. Sometimes the police came to the school. Many of our students were detained and many left the country.

“The teachers did not know what to do. They started to leave teaching, one by one. When we saw this happening,” says Curtis, “we knew we must do something. So in August 1977 we had a big teachers meeting at the Methodist Church in White City.

The meeting made a list of demands:
No Afrikaans
Bantu education out
No more school committees
Better wages and working conditions

“The teachers chose ‘The Committee of Six’. I was one of them. We spoke to lawyers. We wanted to know what would happen if all the teachers walked out.

“The teachers met again a month later. Over five hundred teachers decided to leave.”

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The police, waiting

Learn and Teach asked the UDF and AZAPO how they think South Africa has changed in the last ten years.

MURPHY MOROBE – PUBLICITY SECRETARY FOR THE UNITED DEMOCRATIC FRONT (UDF)
“In 19761 was a member of the South African Students Movement and the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) – the people who led the schools in 1976 and 1977. At that time we believed that we must free the minds of black people.

“We thought we were the first people to fight the government. We did not know about the Defiance Campaign and the school boycotts in the 1950’s. We wanted ‘freedom quickly, overnight. But we learnt many things in 1976.

“We learnt that we must be united to be strong. And to be united, people must join organisations. In those days students were the leaders. When we wanted people to stay away from work, we gave out pamphlets. We hoped people would read the pamphlets and listen to them.

“We made one big mistake. We never spoke to the people in the hostels. This led to very bad fights between the township people and the hostel people. But now we try to work with everyone.

“Today there are many strong trade unions in Cosatu. Now the students are no longer the leaders – the parents are! But I think the students of 1976 helped to make the unions strong.

“The government has changed. The army and the police are stronger than in 1976. But the Nationalist Party is having problems. The whites are fighting amongst themselves. The groups fighting apartheid are stronger than before. And the UDF is now one of the strongest groups.

“I believe it does not help to say when we will be free. We must work now. But we do not think that this government. will last. People must come together to end apartheid soon. People must join organisations and help to make their organisations strong.”

SATHS COOPER – CHAIRPERSON OF AZAPO
“When the students started to boycott classes in Soweto, I was in court, on trial. The government charged many people who belonged to the South African Students’ Organisation. We did not know what was happening.

“Then one day some students came to court. They told us what they were doing in Soweto. Later the court said we were guilty and we went to Robben Island.

“I think that 1976 brought people together again. People were worried about their children. So they joined groups like the (B.RA.) Black Parents Association. People like Nthato Motlana, Winnie Mandela and Zephania Mothuping all worked together. But they all had different political ideas. “In 1976 ‘black consciousness’ organisations were strong. They all believed that black people must fight the government on their own. But in September 1977, our leader, Steve Biko was killed.

“And in October the government banned all the ‘black consciousness’ organisations like the South African Students’ Organisation, the Black People’s Convention. If our organisations were not banned, we would be stronger today.

“I also think that the young people then, knew what they were doing. They used to talk to people before a stay-away – not like today. They did not make people eat soap powder or drink oil. There were thugs in 1976. But they used to loot shops – they did not worry people like today.

“Today people are killing each other in the name of the struggle. We will lose what we have won if people do not stop fighting. People say, ‘If people are going to fight like this when you take over, then we cannot support you.’ We must stop these killings and work together.’

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Worried parents came together

We want to thank everyone who helped us with this story, especially ‘The Sowetan’ and ‘The Indicator’.

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One thought on “On 16th June 1976

  1. Pingback: On 16th June 1976 — Learn and Teach Magazine – Social Movements in South Africa

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