Benaouda Lebdai – June 16, 1976, Soweto or the story of a revolt

The struggle of black South Africans against apartheid has always been active in the political landscape of South Africa. With the creation of the ANC, the African National Congress which was founded in 1912, the battles were structured under the aegis of an ideology, that of equality and the sharing of wealth. Blacks have always fought against racial discrimination, a struggle supported by Nelson Mandela. In 1952 more than 8,000 blacks were arrested and tortured to dismantle the ANC. A few years later, in the interests of democratic struggle, a charter was drawn up in 1955 exactly. This charter registered equality among all and stipulated that South Africa belonged to all who lived there, White and Black. This text indicated that a democratic government must emanate from the people, that the mineral wealth of the subsoil, the banks, the industries, must belong to the people. The ANC also demanded that the allocation of land should no longer be made on the basis of skin color. Such a political program was never heard by the Afrikaners and faced with the even more violent and discriminatory reaction of Pretoria, the ANC movement went from non-violent struggle to violence to defend the rights of blacks, a property violence.

Read also Soweto: what remains of the student revolt of June 1976?


Nelson Mandela was in this struggle and he was arrested in 1964, following his actions and his outspoken speeches against apartheid. He was brought to justice for high treason and in his defense he declared: “We members of the ANC have always fought for a non-racial democracy and refused any policy which separated the races. But the reality of the facts shows that after fifty years of non-violence, blacks are on the same point, rather with more racist and repressive laws and less and less rights. In this case, it would be unrealistic and unproductive to continue to preach non-violence when the Government responds violently to our peaceful demands. ” It is in this social, political and ideological context that the Umkhonto We Sizwe (The Iron of the Nation) was born to fight more firmly against apartheid. This commitment led Nelson Mandela to spend 27 years in prison on Robben Island, off Cape Town.

… to the Black Consciousness Movement

Later, a young man named Steve Biko, 22, created The African Students’ Organization, SASO to continue the fight, calling on all those who suffered from apartheid to unite and fight. He instilled the idea that he had to be proud to be black – which earned him the nickname of father of the Black Consciousness Movement – and that he had to recharge his batteries in his culture and his own value systems. From 1973, demonstrations were organized to protest against the high cost of living and the low wages. But it was 1976 that would mark the spirits in South Africa and in the world. Indeed, demonstrations took place in Soweto with pupils who protested against the teaching of the Afrikaans language, the language of the Boers, against the teaching of all subjects by the Afrikaans language. The latter led them only to subordinate professions, always at the service of whites. These Soweto students knew that English could give them more openness, could open more possibilities for them, like pursuing university studies. The decision was made they didn’t want this language of bondage. The student revolt of June 16, 1976 in Soweto ended in carnage: 494 black students, 75 Métis and an Indian were coldly shot by the Pretoria police. The shock was tragic in Soweto, which consolidated the influence of Winnie Mandela and therefore that of the ANC in all the Townships of the country. The revolts did not stop and the demonstrators still wore the colors of the ANC as in 1985 with the great strikes which followed one another like the boycott of the buses, the schools, as well as the revolts of the women with at their head Winnie Mandela who organized the fight against ‘passes’.

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A massacre that will shock the universal conscience

The situation became more and more difficult for the Government of Pretoria to the point that Prime Minister Botha instituted a state of emergency in 1986 in order to restore order in the Townships. The repression, once again, was fierce, banishments were decreed, like that of Winnie Mandela who was transferred with his daughter to Banford. Assassinations of black activists took place. Afrikaners South Africa was in a war situation for the survival of the latter. Restrictions were introduced, censorship was applied at all levels, including in literary production. Novels by Nadine Gordimer were banned. In 1988, the situation became tragic for blacks and Indians in South Africa. The Pretoria government did not want to hear about a revision of the apartheid law and in 1989 the political situation was completely blocked. For international opinion, the time for negotiations had come. The Soweto revolt of June 16, 1976 was without a doubt a turning point for a whole generation of South Africans who no longer wanted to live as subhumans.

Read also South Africa: Soweto, the impossible forgiveness

* University professor in colonial and postcolonial African literature.

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