South Africa, Politics

The Soweto Uprising: Share your experiences, pictures and perspectives

By The Guardian 31 May 2016

Forty years ago apartheid police killed hundreds of children protesting in the Johannesburg township. Were you there? We want your help telling this story. In association with the Daily Maverick, the Guardian is looking for first-hand accounts of the Soweto Uprising and its aftermath. By BASIA CUMMINGS for GUARDIAN UK.

Wednesday 16 June 1976 was a day that would change South Africa, when some 10,000 black children and teenagers took to the streets of Soweto to protest against being forced to study in Afrikaans, the language of their white oppressors.

As apartheid police responded to the march with force, the protest turned violent. By the end of the day, around 176 young people had been killed and thousands more injured when police fired live ammunition into the crowd.

Thirteen-year-old Hector Pieterson was one of the first to die. A photograph of his limp body being carried by a fellow student, flanked by his sister Antoinette Sithole, has come to immortalise this bleak day in South African history.

Speaking to the Guardian in 2006, Sithole recalled the horrors of the day: “While I was talking to [Hector] there was another shot. We ran back into hiding. When I emerged, he wasn’t there […] I could see the body frame and then I saw blood coming from his mouth. We ran to the clinic, but we could see he was finished. There and then I understood he was dead.”

As the international community reacted to the brutal images emerging from Soweto, the events of 16 June were pivotal in galvanising the anti-apartheid movement. They also cemented the African National Congress’s (ANC) role in leading the struggle against white-minority rule.

In the 40 years since, apartheid has been dismantled and the ANC under Nelson Mandela has been elected to power. The 16th of June is now marked as National Youth Day, to honour the children who lost their lives. But how much has life changed for South Africa’s young people? We want your help telling this story.

Last year, the country was rocked by nation-wide university protests held under the banner of the #FeesMustFallmovement. Students were protesting against the government’s plans to raise the cost of tuition, but also the failing education system and worsening youth unemployment. As they marched, the demonstrators consciously invoked the memory of the Soweto student uprisings.

Were you there? Do you have an experience to share?

Were you there on the 16 June, protesting and marching? Did you witness the violence? And how do you feel about South Africa now, 40 years on?

We want to hear from you, and include your memories, photographs and any other materials that capture the spirit of this pivotal moment in the struggle against apartheid. 

To take part, email with your name, location, and the answers to any of the questions below. Please also indicate whether you are happy for your response to be used for publication. 

Were you in Soweto during the uprising?

What is your enduring memory of the events that day?

Forty years on, how has South Africa changed for its young people? DM

Photo: Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo. His sister, Antoinette Sithole, runs beside them. (Sam Nzima)


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