• Written by  Freedom Ngubonde of Khulumani Support Group
  • Published in Truth & Memory
  • Read 3607 times

Interviews with Soweto Students: JUNE 16, 1976 - 40th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION From 11 June to 16 June 2016

The Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto overlaid with an image of an under-resourced school classroom The Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto overlaid with an image of an under-resourced school classroom Hector Pieterson Memorial pic by Caroline Suzman

Soweto continues to rise with its communities working with government to share the township’s history with the world.

This article is based on interviews conducted with past and current students and teachers living in Soweto township to find out their thoughts about the 40th anniversary commemoration of June 16, 1976, now named National Youth Day.

This year, winter has come early and the streets are empty in the early mornings, except for students making their way to and from school. In summer the streets are always full of people. Mid-year examinations are just around the corner. Nowadays, the students assert “We can fight and learn at the same time!” unlike 40 years ago when they would say, “Liberation before education.” 


The name, Soweto is derived from the first two letters of the words, South Western Township, a name based on its geographic location in relation to the Johannesburg city centre. It is a symbol of the new South Africa, encompassing both old squatter misery and new prosperity, kasi culture with an upbeat lifestyle, a place of vibrancy while still carrying the scars of its apartheid pass while also demonstrating what is possible in the new South Africa.

Interview with Ms Rachel Ndimande

Rachel Ndimande is a 16 year-old female student from Phefeni Senior Secondary School in Vilakazi Street, the street in which the two Nobel Peace prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, both had their homes.

Rachel explained that she knew about Hector Pieterson, the second child to die on 16 June, 1976 at the hands of South African police sent to stop the march of students to Orlando Stadium to stop the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in Soweto schools.

Rachel said she would be celebrating June 16 this year by participating with other students from her school in dancing and drama activities and that she would go to listen to the speeches of government officials outside the Hector Pieterson Museum. She told me that many young people appreciate that they have free education and access to IT equipment such as iPads to assist them with their studies. But she said, there are also young people who use the public holiday for drinking and party-going.

Interview with Frontline Desk Officer at the Hector Pieterson Museum

The frontline officer at the museum told me she believed it was important for young people today to know their own history. She told me that Ms Antoinette Sithole, Hector Pieterson’s sister no longer worked for the museum but that she could be booked to interact with visitors. She gave me brochures to distribute to young people to encourage them to visit the museum.

Interview with Ms Londiwe Mbhatha

Ms Londiwe Mbhatha is also 16 years old and come from Orlando West. She said that she knows the story about how their parents stood up 1976 to fight for their freedom. Each year, she explained, she joins the government-organised march each year on June 16, marching from the Morris Isaacson High School to the Hector Pieterson Museum. She expressed concern about how many young people use the public holiday for braai-ing with friends and dancing. Alcohol is a very big scourge amongst young people and contributes to sexual abuse of young women, teenage pregnancy, crime and drug abuse.

Visit to Naledi High School

I visited Naledi High School, the school that had on 8 June 1976 written the first letter to the then-Minister of Education complaining about the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in township schools. The police presence at the school on that day resulted in students throwing stones at the police and burning a car in their school yard.
At the school I had an interview with the school principal whom I first met in 2006 when I assisted the school to commemorate their role in the Soweto Student Uprising by writing a letter to the then-Minister of Education to protests against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at schools.

I was introduced by the principal to Mr Tshepo Maphosa, a helpful and hard-working teacher who makes huge efforts to educate Naledi High School students about the history of the school and the student uprising. Mr Maphosa heads the “Education Desk for June 16” at the school. He informed me that as this year is the 40th Anniversary of the June 16 1976 Student Uprising, the staff and students will join with leaders from government on the 8 June to listen to former student leaders from the 1976 era including Mr Enos Ngutshana, Ms Zanele Mthembu and Mr Tseke Morathi address them.

Mr Maphosa made links between the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising and the 40 years that the children of Israel wandered in the desert before arriving at their destination.

Visit to Morris Isaacson High School

After visiting Naledi High School, I visited Morris Isaacson High School where I met the school principal who explained how pupils at the school had on 11 June 1976, put up a big placard at their main gate the read “No S.B’s (Special Branch) allowed. Enter at risk to your skin”. (The Special Branch were members of the much-feared Security Police).

The principal said that the school is taking the lead in organising the commemoration of June 16 and that students will be participating in the march from Morris Isaacson High School to the Hector Pieterson Museum in Orlando West. He informed me that the Isaacson Museum based at the school had been opened 2014 by the Gauteng Premier, Mr David Makhura. He also informed me about the school’s plans to host a CAREER EXPO during June 2016

Meeting with the Chairperson of the June 16 Foundation, Mr Danny Motsitsi

My final interview was with the Chairperson of the Morris Isaacson Museum who informed me that “The foundation had been formed by students of 1976 with the aim of promoting awareness of and education about the events comprising the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Our history need to be told by us (South Africans) because we know the truth about South African History.”


I learned from him about the plans for the coming month that include:

i) An Intergenerational Dialogue to be held on 11th June 2016 at the Orlando Stadium
to launch the 40th Anniversary Programme that has been devised by a team comprising officials of the City of Johannesburg and the provincial government with the South African Council of Churches (SACC). The dialogue will include former white soldiers of the South African Defence Force and black members of Umkhonto WeSizwe, the underground military wing along with family members of those who died in the 1976 Uprisings and other young people. The event will be supported by members of white Afrikaner congregations of the NGK. The objectives of the event are: “To reflect on the atrocities committed by apartheid state machinery and how apartheid discriminatory laws affected young people then; to encourage South Africans not to forget where we come from, and also to look forward to actively building and developing a peaceful, prosperous and non-racial South Africa”. 

Topics for the dialogue will include: “Exposing apartheid atrocities including torture and detention under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act; putting a spotlight on the role played by white democrats in the struggle against apartheid and racism in the liberation of South Africa; and racism as a force that works against social cohesion.”

ii) A Religious and Professional Counselling Committee to provide support to
people attending the 11 June event including students and youth who were involved in the 1976 unrest; ex-political prisoners including Robben Islanders; survivors of torture; family members of those who died in the uprisings into the 1980s and beyond; people who had been police informers; police men and women who participated in the shooting and torture of victims of apartheid; former security police and intelligence agents who are remorseful, disturbed or aggrieved; and any other aggrieved group of people or individuals who may have suffered at the hands of apartheid agents”.

iii) The Main Event: June 16, 1976 – 40th Anniversary is the event being organised by
the June 16, 1976 Foundation with the support of the government and other stakeholders “to celebrate June 16 for the positive changes it has brought to our country, and at the same time commemorate the day for the lives lost during the 1976 unrest under apartheid; to begin and initiate a process of Unity, Peace, Reconciliation and Non-Racialism with the South African community; to provide a platform for all communities to reach out to each other and build bridges to ensure a sustained and continued interaction with people from other nationalities; to establish joint future programmes to be implemented and led the Church, the June 16, 1976 Foundation and the generation of conscripts to continue the mission of reconciliation”.

iv) The door to June 16 celebration: The commemoration of 40th Anniversary of June 16
will start at 08:30 with a march from Madibane High School in Diepkloof to Orlando West. The march will pass the place where former student leader Abe Lebelo was shot dead. There will be prayers at the site with a student reading a short statement before the march proceeds to the Orlando Stadium. At the stadium, activities will include a relay to be run by people from four (4) different race groups and the reading of pledge in 11 languages including Khoekhoegowab and sign language.


We hope that many people will participate in these events to see and share the “Beauty of South Africa” (UBUHLE BASE MZANSI)


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