South Africa Plays
on Historical Date
Tomorrow, South Africa will step on the field of Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria, to play against Uruguay, and to celebrate an iconic date in the history of the country. On June 16, 1976, also a Wednesday, students started a national protest that for many marks the beginning of the end of the Apartheid regime.
On that day, students took the streets of Soweto to protest a decree determining that Afrikaans, a colonial West Germanic language, would be officially taught at schools, and were violently repressed by anti-riot vehicles and members of the Anti-Urban Terrorism Unit. By night fall, an estimated 200 bodies lied everywhere, and government buildings and vehicles belonging to white businesses had been burnt to the ground.
Perhaps the most famous photo of the uprising is the one of Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying the body of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, and the boy’s sister running next to them. A postmortem revealed that Hector had been killed by a shot fired directly into him, not a bullet ricocheting off the ground as the police later stated.
The rioting soon spread from Soweto to other towns on the Witwatersrand, Pretoria, to Durban and Cape Town, and developed into the largest outbreak of violence South Africa had experienced. It continued for the rest of 1976, provoking a global outcry against racial discrimination in South Africa.
Slowly, progressive forces in the country and around the world contributed to organize the society’s democratic institutions, culminating with the election of black former political prisoner Nelson Mandela as president, on May 9, 1994.