About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Soweto Uprising

Soweto, a sprawling township located outside Johannesburg, was the site of mass protests by black students in June 1976. The initial cause of the uprising was the compulsory use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at schools, but the revolt was a sign of underlying socio-economic factors. The seething unrest was also promoted by the proliferation of the ideas of the Black Consciousness* movement. On 16 June 1976 crowds of high-school students marched to a nearby football stadium where they planned to stage a protest. Meanwhile the police converged on Soweto, using tear gas and then gunfire as violence escalated. One of the first victims was Hector Peterson, a thirteen-year old boy, who died on the way to hospital. Shock, outrage and violence spread and police action was accelerated. Crowds of angry Soweto residents reacted by burning down government buildings. The cost that day was the death of 174 Africans and 2 whites, but in the ensuing violence of the following months hundreds more died as the radicalization of African youth reverberated in other parts of the country. The government reacted with drastic repression including additional security legislation and the detention of activists without trial. Steve Biko died in custody in 1977 and 17 black organizations were banned. About 4 000 black youths fled the country, giving MK* a boost in the number of guerilla trainees in ANC camps.* The news of the uprising and the harsh government response spread internationally and world reaction was a hardening of attitude towards the government and an acceleration of the anti-apartheid boycott campaign.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.