As South Africa prepares to commemorate 40 years since the Soweto uprising shook the country, we look at some of the facts of that event you might not have known.
1) The official death toll for the day of June 16 was 23, although the number has been disputed by many who believe the police covered up a much higher number of deaths. Other sources have estimated the number could have been as high as 200.
2) The day after the uprising, Minister of Justice and Police Jimmy Kruger issued a statement where he claimed that “about 10 000 pupils launched rowdy processions”. He described the students as “aggressive” and wrote that “a white man and a black man were chopped to death”.
Kruger went on to say: “The police tried everything to get the rioters under control and eventually were forced to fire warning shots over their heads”.
3) In 2008, Tsietsi Mashinini’s family called for Soweto’s Old Potchefstroom Road to be named after the student leader, but it was renamed to Chris Hani Road. In 2010, a statue of Mashinini by artist Johannes Phokela was unveiled at Morris Isaacson High School, where Mashinini was a student.
4) According to a report in The World dated June 17 1976, about 30 policemen – most of them black – arrived outside Phefeni Junior Secondary School while a crowd of students sang Morena Boloka Sechaba Sa Heso. White police officers were armed with revolvers.
Journalist Sophie Tema wrote that she later saw “the body of a black policeman lying on the ground covered with a sheet of paper”.
5) On May 24 1976, The World had reported that 1600 pupils from four schools in Orlando East staged a stay-away from classes as a boycott. This was despite a parents’ meeting being held that weekend where it was decided pupils should return to school.
6) In his book on June 1976, former pupil Sifiso Ndlovu wrote that the boycotts were started by younger pupils. “During the early period, prior to June, the student leaders that later emerged … were not involved in our struggle. This is because they were senior high school students who were not affected. They were exempted by the Ministry of Bantu Education from the ‘Afrikaans as medium’ directive.”
7) June 16 was supposed to be a three-day event, starting June 16 and ending on June 18. That final day – a Friday – was supposed to be the students marching to Orlando Stadium.
8) Police identified student leaders involved in the uprisings and arrested those they found. They were known as the Soweto 11 during their trial after they were charged under the Terrorism Act.
9) The weekend following the uprisings, a Committee of Ten was formed: members included Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Their first job, according to former student leader Seth Mazibuko, was to plan the funerals of those killed on June 16.
10) One of the biggest marches after June 16 was on August 4. It called for the release of the Soweto 11. Says Mazibuko: “The march started in New Canada Station. Students were dressed like workers going to work in the morning, and got into trains as though they were going to work. It was led by Mam’ Winnie. No one recognised the students up until the time they started marching. They took off their work uniforms and put on school uniforms, and started marching to demand our release.”
11) Every year on June 16, Hastings Ndlovu’s family comes together in his memory. Says his sister Granny Seape: “We start at the family home with a prayer, and then we go to the graveyard to place a wreath.” The 17-year-old Ndlovu was one of the first pupils to be killed on June 16.
12) Photographer Sam Nzima still owns the Pentax camera he used to snap the famous image of Hector Pieterson 40 years ago. He says US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once tried to buy it from him: “Winnie Mandela said no. She said, ‘This camera belongs to South Africa, it is the property of our country. We cannot allow it to go to America’. And that was the end of the story.”
13) After his Pieterson image was published, Sam Nzima was put under house arrest for 19 months in Lilydale, Mpumalanga.
14) Outside the Hector Pieterson Museum are installations featuring walls of stones with water seeping through them. This symbolises the rocks protesting students threw at cops and the water they used to wash the teargas out of their eyes.
Source: Sunday Times