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  • The Soweto Uprisings Forty Years On:Usable Pasts and Uncertain Futures
  • Loren Kruger
Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Schoolchildren's Revolt That Shook Apartheid BY BARUCH HIRSON (with a new preface by Shula Marks) Zed Books 2016 ( 1979) xv + 350 pp. ISBN 9781783608966 paper.
The Soweto Uprising BY NOOR NIEFTAGODIEN Ohio UP 2014 165 pp. ISBN 9780821421543 paper.
The Road to Soweto: Resistance and the Uprising of 16 June 1976 BY JULIAN BROWN Boydell & Brewer, 2016 xii + 294 pp. ISBN 9781847011411 cloth.
Students Must Rise: Youth Struggle in South Africa Before and Beyond Soweto '76 EDITED BY ANNE HEFFERNAN AND NOOR NIEFTAGODIEN Wits UP, 2016 xiv + 193 pp. ISBN 9781868149193 paper.

In 2006, thirty years after the students of Soweto (the acronym of South West Townships) and other South African townships rebelled against the imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction, and by extension against the planned injustice of Bantu Education designed, as Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd notoriously proclaimed, to limit black people to "certain forms of labour" (83), the anniversary also celebrated the coming to political power of the generation that had fomented the uprising. This anniversary, presided over by Amos Masondo, then mayor of Johannesburg and formerly a high-school member of the South African Students Movement (SASM), showcased the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, named for one of the first and youngest—at thirteen—students shot on June 16, 1976; it was inaugurated in 2002 on a site close to the shooting by his older sister Antoinette Sithole, whose grief on that day had animated the iconic photograph by Sam Nzima that captured her running alongside eighteen-year-old former student Mbuyisa Makhubo as he carried the dying Hector away from police fire. One of two commemorative volumes around 2006, Footprints of the "Class of 76," edited by curator Ali Hlongwane, features analysis of the museum, different, sometimes conflicting accounts displayed within it, and the impact of this famous photograph and of multiple variations in many media since its publication; it also documents newly marked trails to the site from several of the junior and senior high schools whose students had participated in the June 16 march. Another volume edited by Hlongwane, Soweto '76, includes poetry from the period as well as oral testimony and autobiographical sketches. Hlongwane's emphasis on oral history was not new; it built on the pioneering example of Soweto—A History (Gibson and Segal), a three-hour documentary series screened on national television in 1994, the year of South Africa's first democratic election, the textbook with the same title (Bonner and Segal), and the 25th anniversary volume Soweto: 16 June 1976 (Brink et al.), which published testimony from inadvertent alongside purposeful participants who recalled the day's events hour by hour and framed them with views of the months before and after the now official Youth Day. In addition to activists, Soweto '76 included interviews with less familiar actors, including the father of Hastings Ndlovu, the first student to die on June 16, and the mother of Mbuyisa Makhubo, who fled into exile in Nigeria after Nzima's photograph exposed him to the police, and whose later disappearance bears silent witness to the unfinished narratives of the uprising. [End Page 251]

In contrast to the outpouring in 2006 of visual and verbal narratives, publications on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary in 2016 have been less spectacular, and only one, Students Must Rise, forges connections between the student uprisings of 1976 and the current situation, in which the tiny minority able to reach university has been protesting rising fees and other problems while the majority of youth facing structural unemployment struggle to find any future whatsoever, as long-time activist Mark Heywood noted on the forty-first anniversary in 2017 ("Seize Power"). The 2016 reprint of Baruch Hirson's book Year of Fire, Year of Ash sports a new subtitle, The Soweto Schoolchildren's Revolt That Shook Apartheid, which identifies as children students who were in their teens and even early twenties—a common phenomenon for black students in the apartheid era of uneven and interrupted schooling—but otherwise reproduces the original 1979 text. That study placed the...


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