Why Today is the day of the African Child

Soweto, 13-06-1976

Tebeho Macdonald Mashinini (1957 -1990), a student of Morris Isaacson High School proposed a meeting to discuss what should be done on having Afrikaans and English as a language of learning instruction in local institutions in Soweto (derived from the Afrikaans medium decree of 1974). A mass protest against this decree was agreed. It would happen in the morning of June 16th as a gathering in Orlando Stadium.

Soweto, 16-06-1976

Approximately ten to twenty thousands students walked from their respective schools to Orlando Stadium. The march, planned by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee. Supported by various teachers and the Black Consciousness Movement (led by Steve Biko).


Armed police had baricaded the road along the intended route. Which led the march being led on an alternative route, close to Orlando High School. Students peacefully marched, singing waving placards that reaffirmed a possibility of freedom and equality such as “Viva Azania” and  “If we must do Afrikaans, Voster must do Zulu”.

Shortly after, Commander of Police Colonel Kleingeld drew his handgun and fired a warning shot, causing pandemonium to the unarmed protesters. More shots were fired. Police further set police dogs to attack the young protestors. Dogs of which were stoned to death in a form of self-defense from the students. Police began to directly shoot at the children, having an estimated twenty-three young black children’s lives claimed before the end of the day. The death toll  included 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who became the symbol of the Soweto Uprising. It must be noted that there were further estimates of a much higher death toll, revelling to 200.

South Africa, 17-06-1976

1 500 heavily armed officers are deployed to Soweto. Their artillery included carbines, automatic rifles and stun guns. They moved in armoured vehicles and added helicopters hovering the township with the South African Defense Force on standby. The uprisings spread to the East Rand, West Rand, the University of the North, University of Zululand and Alexandra. It spread to 22 townships in the Transvaal area, four townships in Port Elizabeth and 16 areas around Cape Town.

Protests included 300 white students from the University of Witwatersrand who marched through Johannesburg city centre against the killing of the children. Black workers in the reigon were on protest. Students in Thembisa organized a march of solidarity, similar to a protest held in Kagiso were at least five people were killed.

South Africa, 18-06-1976

Violence had died down throughout the country on this day. However hundreds of lives were lost, infrastructural damage caused by various armed forces.

United Nations, 19-06-1976

the United Nations Security Council Resolution 392 was adopted. The meeting for the resolution was called after African nations Benin, Libya, Madagascar and Tanzania raised the issue in a letter to the council. The resolution was adopted by consensus. The resolution, strongly condemning the actions of the Apartheid South African government called for the legitimate right of self-determination (autonomy) of the people of South Africa.


Commission of Inquiry into the Riots at Soweto and Elsewhere (Cillié) recorded a death toll of 575 people. Which includes 75 Cape Coloured people, two White people, two Indian people and 496 Black Africans. The full list of casualties and death can be sourced at South African History website.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia(unspecified date)-1991

The Organization of African Unity (now the African Union AU) convened to mark this day as The Day of the African Child. The significance of its observation is to honour all the youth who participated in the Soweto Uprisings, and further raise awareness of the continuing need to advance the development of African children. Its themes are set annually.



The Human Spirit: Apartheid’s Unheralded Heroes- By Carole Eglash-Kosoff

Official Stories Chapter 3

Telling Soweto, June 16, 1976—The Appropriation of the People’s Story into Official Histories

Chapter 20, The Soweto Uprising by Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu

The UNSCR Resolution 392

All images courtesy of South African History online