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MIKE MIZLENI / AFP / Getty Images
31 May, 2024

BLACK SOUTH AFRICAN students protest in the Soweto township, near Johannesburg, in August 1976, against the imposition of Afrikaans in schools. Thousands participated in the Soweto Uprising, which began on 16 June 1976, with students standing against the apartheid gov- ernment’s move to make Afrikaans—a language used by and associated with the white minority ruling South Africa—the medium of instruction in schools that served Black South Africans.

The police and army fired tear gas and bullets at protesters, killing at least five hundred people, many of them children, according to official estimates. Several were injured, but the government had ordered doctors to report any patients with bullet wounds so that they could be arrested—which led to problems identifying the actual figures of those killed and wounded, as some doctors concealed the number of patients in order to avoid their arrests.

This incident led to an escalation of the uprising, and solidarity protests by students in other parts of the country, which were also met with violence. It also directed significant international attention to, and criticism of, apartheid’s discriminatory policies and racial segregation, and did lasting damage to the South African government’s reputation.