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Through the Cracks

Relive June 16 1976

40 Years On

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In 1953 the government passes the Bantu Education Act without consultation, one of the Apartheid government’s most offensive, racist laws.

The law extends Apartheid to schools, denies black students a proper education and is designed to teach children to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.

The Apartheid government gives a directive that Afrikaans become a medium of instruction in secondary schools in the Transvaal province.

One of the march organisers Murphy Morobe recalls what happened in the weeks leading up to June 16…

On the morning of June 16 1976, students gather at high schools across Soweto and prepare to march against Afrikaans being used as a medium of instruction.

Student leader Seth Mazibuko recalls what led to the march…

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On the morning of June 16 1976, students gather at high schools across Soweto and prepare to march against Afrikaans being used as a medium of instruction.

Murphy Morobe explains the plan for the day…

As the thousands of students begin to march, they are led by leaders Tsietsi Mashinini, Seth Mazibuko, Sibongile Mkhabela and others. A police convoy begins to follow them.

Seth Mazibuko explains how the police began to feel sandwiched between different groups of marching students…

In the midst of the chaos, 12-year-old Hector Pieterson is shot. Despite media reports to the contrary, he is not the first person to be shot on the day. Hastings Ndlovu is the first. But there are no cameras present to capture his death for posterity.

Hector’s sister Antoinette Sithole was part of the march that day…

As the thousands of students try to escape the police attack, 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu runs through the crowd. He had heard the shots from his home nearly. Makhubu lifts Hector Pieterson into his arms. Together with Pieterson’s sister, Antoinette Sithole, they begin to look for help.

Sam Nzima, who captured the iconic photograph of Hector Pieterson, spoke to EWN. (Photograph courtesy of Sam Nzima)

Journalist Sophie Tema pulls up in her Volkswagen Beetle which belongs to The World newspaper. Tema and Antoinette Sithole rush Pieterson to the nearest clinic where he is declared dead on arrival.

“The hell was loose” - Photographer Sam Nzima

Reacting with fury, the students attack any symbol of the government of the time. Bottle stores and beerhalls are targeted, officials vehicles stoned and individuals attacked. Amongst those killed is Dr Melville Edelstein. The violence spreads beyond Soweto.

Mbuyisa Makhubu becomes the most hunted man in Soweto. Police even accuse him of posing for the iconic photograph. He is on the run and escapes into exile in August 1976. He is never seen by his family again.

Officially, the government says 173 people are killed in the violence - 23 students died on June 16. But unofficial records suggest as many as 700 people died as a result of the Soweto Uprising. The lives of thousands of students would be irrevocably changed and the legacy of the ‘76 generation would live on.

Our story of June 16 and Mbuyisa Makhubu continues on Through the Cracks.

Project Credits

Written and researched by Mandy Wiener and Ziyanda Ngcobo

Audio, video and visual production: Christa Eybers

EWN would like to extend a special thank you to veteran photographer Sam Nzima for his involvement

Special thanks to NPR Visuals for the use of their code.

June 16 archive footage Copyright SABC News