History is rattled with stories of the middle aged man fighting for his rights, the elder commanding a deserved respect, and the government leaders enforcing their rule. What history seems to lack are the forgotten faces of the younger generations. These are the “twenty something” year-olds, the teenagers, and even the children who stand up to their superiors for what their malleable minds believe in. The Soweto Uprising is the story of a time in South African history when the greatest revolution came from the generations with seemingly no power who were filled with the desire to make a change.
It seemed as though South Africa had hit a wall in the fight against Apartheid when they were banned from the United Nations and nearly all of their hope had been exiled or hidden in jail cells. The prominent leaders, the Tambos, the Mandelas and the Huddlestons of South Africa no longer held the same power against Apartheid they previously had. In this hopeless time it was the younger generations who were fed up and knew the silent struggle needed to end- and it needed to end immediately.
The message of independence had been sold to the young, and they bought it. On June 16, 1976, students were finally pushed too far and knew it was time to stand up and make their generational presence known.
There was something in the air on that early school day when the students disregarded the Lord’s Prayer in English for a more traditional South African song. The system was finally challenged and hundreds upon hundreds of students followed suit. It wasn’t long however before the police began to take force against the masses. The sound of gunfire rang out into the crowd that was hidden by tear gas. The police, grown men, armed with weapons and anger were firing at the innocent and unarmed children. These people were harmless to the police and yet the police aimed regardless.
Many grow up being told to respect their elders and look up to their superiors but how can these kids do that when those same elders are trying to kill them? These same kids that can be seen running from the police will one day have kids of their own and how are they supposed to spread the message of respect after such a horrific experience?
Among the gunfire was a young schoolboy who was tragically shot and killed by the police brutality. His name was Hector Pieterson and he was a harmless, innocent and unarmed child against grown men.
A grown man shot this child. Someone’s son. Someone’s brother. A school mate. And for what reason?
Was it because of his skin color?
Is racism so deeply embedded in people that killing a child seems justifiable?
This horrific death was a sudden turning point in the black school kid’s demeanor. As the dogs were released they began stoning them to death to send a message to the police. They knew the tone of the peaceful statement had changed and it was now time to fight back.
Running from the gunfire, these kids started to set fire to surrounding white city offices. Life was organized in these offices and oppression was carried out in these offices. What a metaphor they had created. The chains that bound them to the white government rule were suddenly up in flames leaving nothing but ashes in their wake. It was an apocalyptic day. The mothers, the fathers, the leaders and groups had failed, but the young people were turning the struggles around.
As the city burnt to a crisp, white government officials gave the police the power to keep people, the white people that is, safe by whatever means they deemed necessary. Giving such an order to a bunch of armed and racist men was asking for trouble.
Within two days the police had killed over five hundred people triggering a mass uprising. Many people watched as the massacre unfolded leaving in its wake bodies of the young and helpless bloody and battered. This uprising came to be known as the Soweto Uprising, a day in time when the future history of South Africa was decided. The young people of South Africa were not ready to take it anymore and their message and intent to fight back spread like wild fire throughout the country and the world.
The international community was stunned and horrified by the visual evidence of death coming out of South Africa. The manifestation of the black frustration had finally boiled over to the rest of the world. The first time, such a travesty, had made waves internationally was in Sharpeville and in an almost parallel fashion Soweto followed.