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Friday, June 16, 2006

Remembering the Soweto Uprising

30 years ago today black students in Soweto, S. Africa rose up against the ruling apartheid regime and its Afrikaans Medium Decree, a policy which forced all black students to learn the Afrikaans language and be taught secondary school mathematics, social sciences, geography and history in the language. Soweto, which is specifically a collection of townships that hold more then 50% of Johannesburg's population (the most populous city in South Africa, third most populous in Africa behind Cairo and Lagos), was created during the height of the apartheid regime specifically for housing African people who were then living in areas designated by the government for white settlement. The riots on this date had been bubbling to the surface for some time, as some Soweto children went on strike months earlier in defiance of the Deputy Minister of Bantu Education's statement: I have not consulted the African people on the language issue and I'm not going to. An African might find that 'the big boss' only spoke Afrikaans or only spoke English. It would be to his advantage to know both languages.

Intended as a peaceful demonstration carefully planned and supported by the Black Consciousness Movement, the protest became bloody when the 10,000 students found themselves trapped in a police barricade along their intended route. The police gassed the crowd and then started shooting students, killing 20 black students and supporters on the first day. The violence continued during the days that followed as the heavily armed police locked down Soweto, swept the city at night and enabled officers to shoot at random. The total number of people killed varies from 200 to over 1000.

South Africans, Africans, and the international community were shocked and outraged by this demonstration of brute force and oppression by the ruling Afrikaans party. The riots signified the beginning of the end for apartheid, greatly due to international pressure from the UN and many Western nations.

Today, June 16th, is celebrated in South Africa as Youth Day.

S Africa marking Soweto uprising from today's BBC
Article and pictures of the riot
Hector Pieterson, the new Che Guevara
Cry Freedom and Steve Biko

Abdullah Ibrahim - Guilty.mp3 (via WFMU)

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