The Fight To Freedom: 1976 Soweto Uprisings
This exhibition is an attempt to help remember South Africa’s shift from apartheid to democracy through the 1976 youth demonstrations across the country. In apartheid South Africa, separate educational system existed for black students and white students. Inevitably the students of 1976 took it upon themselves to fight against social, political, educational and economical discrimination and inequalities.
The Bantu Education Act of 1953 prioritised education on a racial basis and regularised the sub-par education needed for semi-skilled factory jobs for black labourers. The Bantu Education policy also controlled the curriculum of mission schools, which were popular at the time. As a result, teachings about African heritage, traditions values and norms were abolished which are core to an individual’s identity and future.
The then Minister of Native Affairs, Hendrick Verwoed had said that Bantu schools would equip Africans to meet the demands which the economic life of South Africa would impose on them. Given his sentiments, the Education Policy was preparing black people for a life of servitude in semi-skilled jobs as employees of white people. On this basis, the Bantu Education Act was one of the laws enacted to enforce a “white master and black servant” system.
Ms Christina Legodi, a National Library of South Africa (NLSA) staff member was part of the demonstrations in Pretoria on 17 June 1976. Listen as she gives an account of that day.
It was at this juncture that South Africa’s youth challenged a system that was intent on keeping them in a perpetual state of inequalities. Consequently, in June 1976, the youth crafted a plan to demonstrate against the repelling law and the subjugation of black people.
Not only did the apartheid government devise the Bantu Education Act, between 1974 and 1976, the regime felt compelled to extend the scope of the Bantu Education Act by announcing that Afrikaans would be the medium of instruction in key subjects. At the time, the Afrikaans language symbolised oppression and was spoken and understood by a minority.
The choice of language and the use of language are integral to a person’s identity and definition of themselves. The students believed that the repressive educational policy would place them in a permanent state of subordination.
The 1976 Soweto Uprisings are heralded as one of the key events that led to the disturbance of the hegemonic nature of apartheid due to the fierceness of young people who were determined to shape and rewrite their future.
Approximately 20 000 young protestors gathered in Orlando Stadium, Soweto to protest against systematic exploitation but soon met with the brutal force of the police. Seemingly, chaos erupted and the protest turned violent. Over 500 people are said to have lost their lives across the country. Among the causalities was Hector Pieterson who was 13 years old at the time. The lifeless body of Hector drew international attention as the world looked upon South Africa differently.