June 16, 1976

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.
1976-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.

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.

1976“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.

From Learn and Teach Foundation