In an Article titled Forty Years Since the Soweto Riots: A legacy of arson, destruction, and killing one’s benefactors, Dan Roodt believes the uprising or Soweto riots of 1976 are central to the “myths of black liberation” and commemoration thereof today, 21 years after it became a public holiday is now “one of the most important days on the propaganda calendar”.
According to Roodt, the alleged propaganda is a version of a narrative which portrays the uprising as a “heroic resistance to the apartheid regimes decision to make Afrikaans rather than English the language of instruction in black public schools.” “They spontaneously boycotted classes, marched in demonstrations, and were slaughtered in the streets by racist white police”.
Roodt’s portrayal of this event is largely different from that described in www.sahistory.org.za but they do both agree that this day is instrumental in the rise of Nelson Mandela’s ANC, “clearly, the events of the Soweto revolt and the response from the liberation movement in exile are not isolated developments”. He describes South Africa before the uprising as a peaceful society almost divorced from secular influence, one where there is no television sets to promote lewd and socialist agendas, where children were encouraged to read and the radio was the main means of private entertainment in the home and was pumping good wholesome poetry, drama and soaps into homes. He recalls that Jimmy Carter was the first elected president in the USA to take an anti-white stance against the republic. That all changed in 1976 when with the establishment of the first broadcasting network in SA the awareness of race riots in other parts of the globe was displayed in prime time for all to see.
In addition to secular, church winds of change blew in the form of the Anglican denomination and their reported instigating role in riots. English churches were reportedly hostile to local Afrikaners whom they viewed as backward from around the early 19th century and this only worsened toward the end of the century and Boer Wars. An English priest sent to South Africa in 1940 who was an unabashed socialist and foe of apartheid who reportedly taught Marxism in the form of early “liberation theology”. Nelson Mandela said, “No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston”.
Roodt claims world powers like China and Soviet Union conspired with the Anglican Church to poison the minds of the youth who were teachers too in both high schools in SA and universities of tribal homelands. The Church reportedly held meetings with Soweto school teachers and students in the months leading up to the uprising and helped print pamphlets arguing against Afrikaans as language of instruction and provided transportation for demonstrators.
Contrary to common knowledge, Afrikaans was not a replacement for English but an additional language used in equal proportions, not forced from a perspective of arrogance but rather to enable the prospective job applicants to be better qualified in the eyes of the predominantly white employers who were themselves either Afrikaans or English. White schools had adopted this model of bilingual education too.
The demonstrations were mostly peaceful until 4pm when adults were bussed in and reportedly inebriated. A group of officers was surrounded by rock throwing mob who killed a police dog and the panicked and fired upon them, wounding Hector Pieterson who later died of his wounds and the iconic image that shocked the world was published in Newspapers and shown on television as the symbol of the uprising.
Amid the downplaying of the race of the officer who killed Hector and the supposed racial identification of the victim remain the facts that after the incident a police dog lay dead and one child was murdered by a police force sent by a White Nationalist government to subdue the rioters. Corresponding to last year’s commemoration of youth day, a newspaper published an interview with the 82-year old photographer of the iconic picture, Mr. Nzima, who witnessed another death that day which could shed more light on the claim of propaganda. Mr. Nzima reported about a death of a policemen before Hector was shot and said,
“Only one policeman remained. The children broke all the windows of his vehicle and dragged him from it. They cut his throat as if he were a goat and set him alight. All of that I photographed with my Pentax camera.”
But these pictures were never published.
It would be a significant twist after 40 years of a narrative that has almost become a fact but I could not find any other corroborating evidence for the claim, only a newspaper article in the subscription based Beeld. I have reached out to Mr. Dan Roodt for his comments, but at the time of this post, haven’t heard back from him.
So what really happened on June 14 1976? Roodt acknowledges that the riots spread across the country but suggests that although they were supposed to be about language and school instruction, they degenerated into wanton lawlessness which resulted in hundreds of schools being burned and the deaths of more than 100 people.
Please check back for my next blog post where I review, in more detail, what happened in 1976, this time from the history published on the website www.sahistory.org.za.