The Soweto Uprising of 1976 was a protest against the forced use of the Afrikaans language in South African schools. On the morning of June 16, 1976, thousands of students walked out of school in protest. As tensions rose, a policeman fired a shot to disperse the crowd, triggering a bloody battle. At least 23 students died, and as many as 700 people lost their lives in the ensuing violence.Continue Reading
Originally, South Africa used Dutch and English as its primary languages. Over time, Afrikaans replaced Dutch, and many black South Africans came to associate the language with apartheid. In the 1970s, the South African government passed a number of laws designed to force the use of Afrikaans, and made it the official language of some school subjects in 1974. The students preferred the previous class arrangements, which allowed them to study either in English or indigenous African languages.
The uprising drove many of the students into political activism, and the African National Congress became the central force of the anti-apartheid movement. The violence, along with the failure of attempts by South Africa to put a more humane face on their apartheid policies, led to more international pressure against the government and its actions. After the fall of the apartheid government, June 16 became Youth Day, a public holiday.Learn more about Modern History