What were the most significant causes of the 1976 Soweto riots?

1. School systems (secondary):

In 1953 the Apartheid Government enacted The Bantu Education Act, which established a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs. The role of this department was to compile a curriculum that suited the “nature and requirements of the black people.” The author of the legislation, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister), stated: “Natives [blacks] must be taught from an early age that equality with Europeans [whites] is not for them.” Black people were not to receive an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn’t be allowed to hold in society. Instead they were to receive education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the homelands or to work in laboring jobs under whites.


2. Making secondary schools teach 50/50 in both Afrikaans and English (secondary):

The main cause of the protests that started in African schools in the Transvaal at the beginning of 1975 was a directive from the Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as one of the languages of instruction in the department’s secondary schools.

It was not a new rule. Verwoerd had thought of it more than 20 years earlier – in 1953 – when he devised his Bantu Education package. But in the context of bausskap, even Verwoerd was capable of errors of judgment; and when the language clause proved to be unworkable due to a shortage of teachers, a lack of Afrikaans textbooks and a grudging acceptance that pupils would have immense difficulty in coping with three languages as mediums of instruction, it was quietly forgotten by the white bureaucrats who ran African education.

The catalyst of the unrest was the Southern Transvaal Bantu Education Department’s decision in 1974 that junior secondary black students be taught in English and Afrikaans in a 50/50 ratio. (See 4th link)


3. Inequalities in South African education (secondary):

Twelve years after the fall of white minority rule, a new class apartheid characterises South Africa. The country is blighted by 40 per cent unemployment, more than 50 per cent of the population living in poverty, and the highest HIV/Aids infection rate in the world. Apart from entrenching the economic dictatorship of the white capitalist class, the ANC’s reign has benefited only a tiny black elite which has become obscenely wealthy overnight as the still-predominantly white capitalist class assimilates the black capitalists into their ranks. The youth bear the brunt of the government’s capitalist policies. Less than 50 per cent of those who start school reach the final year. Inequalities in education live on as an insult to the memory of the 1976 generation. Unaffordable tuition fees result in thousands being excluded from tertiary education institutions and protests are now an annual event.


4. Lack of facilities and resources of education for black children (secondary):

The major cause of the Soweto uprising were the changes in black education introduced by the Nationalist party government after the 1948 general elections. The Bantu Education Act became a reality in 1953. Before the Act, the large majority of black children went to mission schools that received some financial support from the state. This changed with the creation of the Bantu Education Department, when mission schools lost this state assistance and had to close. Finance for black schools now came from the taxes paid by black people, the majority of whom were poor. This resulted in a very unequal quantity and quality of education for black and white children.


5. The proposal of a United front brought oppressed South Africans together (primary):

(Source: Images of defiance, SAHA Wits University, Historical papers)
Poster produced during the launch of the UDF (see photos)

The idea to form an organisation that would unite Indian, Coloured, and African people began in the late 1970s and grew in the 1980s. This organisation would be independent from the banned African National Congress. During late 1970s and early 1980s hundreds of political resistance organisations emerged across all sectors of society. Organisations such as the Release Nelson Mandela Committee and the End Conscription Committee dealt with specific political issues. Others such as trade unions, church, student and womens organisations mobilised members around the specific impact of apartheid on them such as labour and gender issues. An umbrella body was needed for uniting and optimising the impact of these different efforts to challenge apartheid. At the Congress of the Transvaal Anti-South African Indian Council (TASC) held in January 1983, Popo Molefe and Cas Saloojee raised the idea of a united front. Some activists within TASC, like Ismail Momoniat and Valli Moosa had to be persuaded to accept the proposal. Saloojee announced the formation of a United Front during a press conference.


Next points of research:

The black consciousness movement (Cillie:601);
Political and military events in South Africa
The homelands policy
Influx control
Actions of the Administration Boards
Lack of citizenship related to the homelands policy


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