Immediate short term impacts of the Soweto Riots

Although Soweto was undoubtedly the epicentre of the 1976 uprising, the brutal
response by the police to the students’ peaceful march ignited a general revolt across the
country. After 16 June one township after another engaged in open revolt. It took only
one day for students from Alexandra to organise solidarity action with their comrades in
Soweto and for the uprising to engulf other townships in the vicinity of Soweto.
Initially the revolt took the form of solidarity marches with the students of Soweto
but quickly transformed into more generalised struggles against Bantu education and
apartheid. There were many similarities in the form and political content of the uprising
in different townships: they were mainly student-led; symbols of apartheid, especially
beer halls, became the primary targets; police repression was severe, which resulted
in large numbers of casualties; and Black Consciousness emerged as the unifying
ideology of the student movement. In addition, the introduction of Afrikaans was a
common immediate cause of student discontent. The effects of the structural crisis
of Bantu education were in evidence everywhere. Overcrowding, lack of resources,
unqualified teachers and the poor quality of education characterised township schools
and were among the principal underlying causes of student discontent everywhere.
Although the struggles in other townships generally copied the template established
by the Soweto uprising, there were also local variations that were shaped by local
actors and circumstances. Possibly the main difference between Soweto and other
townships was that the struggles in these other places neither reached the same levels
of intensity nor were as protracted as in Soweto. The level of organisation, the role of
workers and hostel dwellers and the role of the police also varied significantly across
the townships.


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