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Events As They Unfolded On June 16 1976 -- An Extract

Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu, author of "The Soweto Uprisings: Counter-Memories of June 1976" recounts the exact details of what took place on June 16 1976.

15/06/2017 14:40 SAST | Updated 15/06/2017 14:40 SAST
The Soweto Uprisings/ Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu

The weekend before the march, a meeting was held between students and some BPC members to finalise strategy. The Student Action Committee plan was to stage a peaceful march – with students from all over Soweto congregating at Orlando Stadium and then from there to proceed to the regional offices of the Department of Bantu Education in order to deliver a memorandum reflecting student grievances.

Most parents were unaware of plans for the demonstration. Elliot Ndlovu, the father of Hastings Ndlovu, a Form Three student at Orlando North, who was killed, remembers:

On June 16 1976 I woke up as usual. I did not know anything; these kids were too secretive. We were using some of the facilities at Emthonjeni Primary School [in Orlando East] across the road because my school did not have a photocopy machine and I was also the Maths teacher ... When we were at Emthonjeni I could see there was trouble in Orlando West ... I said to one chap, Shabangu, who was a principal at Zifuneleni School: 'Man, do you see this trouble?

In the morning his son had been acting strangely but Ndlovu took little notice and was still not unduly worried when, by 7.30 pm, Hastings had not yet come home.

Antoinette Sithole recalls her brother's shooting, and meeting Mbuyisa Makhubu for the first time, as follows:

As we came out from hiding, I was scared and I said: 'It seems this is going to go on and on. So what can one do?' I was thinking very hard and I forgot about Hector ... We came on foot. at's another problem. Even if you want to go home, how are you going to go home? So I was thinking about that ... I looked around ... thinking maybe he's still hiding. He's small. Maybe he's still hiding, he's still frightened ... I told myself that I'm not going to move from that place. He might come looking for me. Let me stay here. While I was there, thinking about that, I could see a group of boys, about three or four, at a distance ... ey were struggling and other students who were hanging around on the pavement were going to that scene ... I want to go there but I don't know how because I'm thinking of Hector, that he might look for me and not nd me ... I was very scared. It's almost about seven minutes and Hector hasn't come out. My heart was beating so fast but I tried to get hold of myself. As they came closer, the gentleman ... whom I knew later [as] Mbuyisa Makhubu ... li ed ... a body and, as he li ed it higher, the rst thing that I saw was the front part of Hector's shoe. en I said: ' ose shoes belong to Hector!' I just said that and I just went to the scene. Mbuyisa was already running. And on the way when we were running I asked him: 'Who are you? is is my brother, I've been looking for him.' I didn't know how to explain myself.

The voices of female students such as Sithole and Mkhabela highlight the fact that women played a crucial role in the Soweto uprisings. This point has to be consolidated by the historiography, which is dominated by male voices. After the murder of Hector Pieterson and Hastings Ndlovu, unarmed and furious students continued pitched battles with the police, who were using live ammunition and teargas. Parents had to rush home from work extremely worried about the safety of their children.

Events as they unfolded on that fateful day:

12h00: Police refused white journalists entry into Soweto. They obtained information about the uprising from their African colleagues.

12h30–13h00: SABC camera crew and newsmen were allowed to accompany police patrols in Soweto. Bottle stores at Phefeni/Orlando West were looted and set on re. WRAB buildings were also targeted. Police continued to use tear gas and live ammunition to control the situation.

14h00: A large contingent of paramilitary police reinforcements arrived at intervals as looting and arson continued with criminal elements/tsotsis taking advantage.

14h30–17h00: As the burning and looting continued, wounded and shot people continued streaming to Baragwanath Hospital and vari- ous local clinics. Medical staff was overwhelmed.

The police seemed to be shooting without warning and indiscriminately.

At 15h30 Colonel Theunis 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel arrived in Soweto with three officers and 58 policemen. ey divided into two task forces. e force under Swanepoel came up against the protesters around Uncle Tom's Hall. e crowd numbered about 4 000 and was dispersed by the police who fired at them.

17h00–20h00: Violence, death and arson continued. Burned motor- cars were used to block roads and railway tracks, as police used rail and road to gain access to other parts of Soweto.

19h00: Police were split into smaller groups, and assigned specific tasks.

21h00: A meeting of the Soweto Parents' Association was held in Dr Nthato Motlana's consulting rooms to discuss the events of the day. Along with Motlana, Winnie Mandela, Tebello Motapanyane, a student, and R. Matimba, a teacher, were among those present. Mandela suggested that a mass funeral for police victims be held on Sunday, 20 June. e service was later prohibited.

The Soweto uprisings spread to urban centres, rural areas and homelands. Students throughout the country went on strike in solidarity with the Soweto students. Jimmy Kruger, the Minister of Justice and Police, announced in the House of Assembly on 22 June 1976 that the pattern of the riots (uprisings) that spread to the East Rand, the West Rand, the University of the North, the University of Zululand, and Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg, had followed that of Soweto. is pattern was to 'destroy buildings by ire, to plunder, to throw stones and objects, to set vehicles alight and attack their own people'.96 By the end of February 1977 the official death toll, as recorded by the Cillié Commission, stood at 575 – including 75 coloureds, two white, two Indian, and 496 African people. Many areas were affected, including 22 townships in the Transvaal, 16 areas around Cape Town, four townships in Port Elizabeth, and nine other towns.

The Soweto Uprisings/ Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu

** This is an extract from "The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976". It is published by Picador Africa and written by Professor Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu.