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50th Anniverary of the Soweto Student Uprising: Soweto students march against government’s language policy

By South African History Online

It all began as a peaceful protest march, but ended with violence, tears, blood and death of a 13 year old boy, Hector Peterson. The Soweto uprising began when more than 20 000 learners marched against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in Black secondary schools. The uprising then escalated into a nation-wide revolt, revitalising the struggle for liberation in South Africa.

Apart from the language issue, students also demanded an education as good as that provided for white students. Police used teargas to disperse the crowd and students started throwing stones in retaliation. Police then responded by firing live bullets, killing thirteen year old Hector Petersen. Africa During the next few days crowds attacked everything they associated with the apartheid government. Vehicles and buildings were stoned and set alight and two white officials were beaten to death. Police continued to use force in an attempt to quell the rioting. Youth Day marks not just the sacrifices made by the youth on that day, but also of those children who defied “Bantu Education” and took up arms in the struggle for freedom.

Thousands of students were exiled in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. The majority joined the African National Congress (ANC) and some opted to undergo military training. Others joined the PAC also with the intention of undergoing military training. It was those that joined the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who made an early return as trained cadres, attacking key government installations and persons believed to have been working for the apartheid government. Known as the June 16 Detachment, they included Solomon Mahlangu, executed for his role in an attack in Johannesburg in 1977 and the Silverton Trio, killed by a police sniper during a siege of the Volkskas Bank in Pretoria.

Youth Day is commemorated annually on 16 June.

* Sahistory.,(1976), ‘Soweto students march against government’s language policy,’ from South African history Online, [online] Available at [Accessed: 24 May 2012]
* Boddy-Evans A. (n.d), ’16 June 1976 Student Uprising in Soweto,’from About African History, 16 June, [online] Available at, [Accessed: 24 May 2013]
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