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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 555

Paragraph Numbers 107 to 112

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 14

■ 1976–1982


107 In 1976, the Johannesburg area was the centre of the most sustained and violent protests the country had ever seen. 1976 has frequently been described as a turning point in South Africa’s political history. The conflict sparked by the former state’s attempt to impose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction on black school children lasted fifteen months and spread to 200 towns and cities across South Africa.18

108 Officially 575 people died and 2 380 people were wounded during the Soweto protests on 16 June. Most of the victims were under the age of twenty-five; many were school children.

109 During the following month, sympathy protests broke out in towns, townships, homelands and cities country-wide, resulting, in many instances, in further clashes between protesters and the security forces. The protests were met with aggression from the former state. On 18 June, Prime Minister John Vorster told parliament, “The government will not be intimidated. Orders have been given to maintain order at all costs.” All outdoor public meetings were banned in terms of the Riotous Assemblies Act.

110 Captain ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel, who gave the crowds of Sowetan school children the order to disperse on 16 June and led the Riot Unit into Soweto and Alexandra, said later that he had adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in order to curb the Soweto protests and that the police had erred in not using more force against the students.

111 During July, the government closed schools in at least eighty townships around the country. In August, the police conducted a series of raids on schools, looking for Soweto Student Representative Council (SSRC) leaders. Schools emptied and Sowetan students began meeting off school campuses, organising a series of further protest activities, mainly boycotts and strikes. Incidents of violence were also recorded ranging from arson attacks on schools, beer halls and homes, to the killing of people perceived to be representatives of government authority.

112 It took the government more than a year to quell the violence which grew rapidly from a locally based student protest against inadequate education to a wholesale rejection of apartheid by black communities across the country.

18 Secondary sources used for information on the Soweto protests include John Kane Berman, Soweto – Black Revolt, White Reaction, 1978; Baruch Hirson, Year of Fire, Year of Ash – The Soweto Revolt, Roots of a Revolution?, 1979; Selected SAIRR Surveys; WJP Carr, Soweto: its Creation, Life and Decline,1990; Joyce Sikhakhane, A Window on Soweto, 1977; Nomavenda Mathiane, Beyond the Headlines, 1990; Alan Brooks and Jeremy Brickhill, Whirlwind before the Storm,1980; Tom Lodge (1983).
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