“I Saw a Nightmare…”
Doing Violence to Memory: The Soweto Uprising, June 16, 1976
by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick
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UN Resolutions on Soweto 1976

Document 77: Security Council resolution: Situation in South Africa - Killings and violence by the regime in South Africa in Soweto and other areas

S/RES/392 (1976), 19 June 1976

The Security Council,

Deeply shocked over large-scale killings and wounding of Africans in South Africa, following the callous shooting of African people including schoolchildren and students demonstrating against racial discrimination on 16 June 1976,

Convinced that this situation has been brought about by the continued imposition by the South African Government of apartheid and racial discrimination, in defiance of the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly,

  1. Strongly condemns the South African Government for its resort to massive violence against and killings of the African people including schoolchildren and students and others opposing racial discrimination;
  2. Expresses its profound sympathy to the victims of this violence;
  3. Reaffirms that the policy of apartheid is a crime against the conscience and dignity of mankind and seriously disturbs international peace and security;
  4. Recognizes the legitimacy of the struggle of the South African people for the elimination of apartheid and racial discrimination;
  5. Calls upon the South African Government urgently to end violence against the African people and to take urgent steps to eliminate apartheid and racial discrimination;

Document 78: Special report of the Special Committee against Apartheid on "The Soweto massacre and its aftermath"

A/31/22/Add.1, 3 August 1976

I. Introduction

1. The uprising in South Africa since 16 June 1976 against apartheid and racial discrimination and the brutal massacres perpetrated by the South African regime against African school children and others represent a new stage in the struggle of the South African people for freedom and an inescapable challenge to the international community.

2. Though the immediate cause of demonstrations by the African students was the arbitrary imposition by the apartheid regime of Afrikaans as the second language of instruction in African secondary schools, they reflect, in fact, African resistance to apartheid in all its aspects.

3. As the Security Council recognized in resolution 392 (1976), adopted by consensus on 19 June, the present situation "has been brought about by the continued imposition by the South African Government of apartheid and racial discrimination, in defiance of the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly"...

4. Numerous Governments and public organizations all over the world have expressed shock at the callous killing of Africans, demanded that the Pretoria regime abandon apartheid and repression, and called for more energetic international action to eradicate apartheid.

5. The Pretoria regime, however, has scorned the resolution of the Security Council. While making partial concessions on the issue of Afrikaans instruction, it resorted to massive repression against the African people and all opponents of apartheid, thereby aggravating the situation.

6. The Special Committee considers that the General Assembly and the Security Council, in particular, and the international community, generally, must urgently take further action to put an end to this increasingly grave situation, which is likely to lead to even more brutal repression and violence against innocent people and a consequent threat to the peace in a wider international context.


II. The Unfolding Crisis

7. Since its inception in 1963, the Special Committee has repeatedly drawn attention to the constant aggravation of the situation in South Africa as a result of the imposition of apartheid by the racist white minority regime and its brutal repression against opponents of apartheid. In its annual and special reports to the General Assembly and the Security Council, it has shown that the Pretoria regime has resorted to ever- increasing repression to enforce apartheid as resistance to its policies continued unabated...

8. In these 13 years, the racist regime has caused enormous suffering to the black people by forcible removal of hundreds of thousands of families, arrests of millions of people under discriminatory laws and deprivation of elementary human rights. It has enacted a series of repressive laws which violate all canons of justice; it has imprisoned and restricted thousands of leaders of the black people and other opponents of apartheid and subjected them to ill-treatment and torture, resulting in over a score of deaths in detention. It has resorted to police shootings against peaceful demonstrators on several occasions in incidents described as "mini-Sharpevilles".

9. Despite all this brutality, however, there has been ever-increasing resistance against apartheid by the oppressed people of South Africa. The legitimacy of their struggle for freedom has received growing international recognition...

15. These policies and actions of the South African racist regime have created a highly explosive situation, which has led to the recent ghastly massacre of African children in Soweto and other areas. The wide popular support for African student demonstrations against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in segregated secondary schools reflects a seething resentment against the diabolical plans of the regime for the perpetuation of white domination. The inhuman brutality of the regime in resorting to wanton killings of African children underlines its determination to continue on its present course, which can only be catastrophic.


III. The Soweto Massacre and Its Aftermath

16. On 16 June 1976, 10,000 African students in Soweto, the segregated African township of Johannesburg, joined a peaceful demonstration against the arbitrary decision imposed by the "Bantu education" authorities that Afrikaans should be used as the medium of instruction for several subjects in secondary schools. The police opened fire at the demonstrators, killing several children. A special police squad trained to combat urban terrorism was brought into Soweto by helicopters, which were also used to drop tear-gas canisters. In the ensuing confrontations between the police and Africans, mainly students, large numbers of persons were killed and wounded. The Africans destroyed a number of buildings - notably the offices of the West Rand Bantu Administration Board, liquor stores and beer halls - which, to them, were symbols of racial discrimination and oppression.

17. Eyewitness accounts of the events of 16 June indicated that the police had shot and killed school children indiscriminately. A senior police officer told the press: "We fire into them. It is no good firing over their heads." The dispatch of large contingents of the police into the township tended to provoke African anger.

18. Several hundred white students from the University of Witwatersrand held demonstrations in Johannesburg on 17 June in sympathy with the black students of Soweto and were joined by black workers. They were brutally attacked by white vigilantes and by the police, resulting in serious injuries to scores of persons.

19. Demonstrations against "Bantu education" and in solidarity with the African students in Soweto soon spread to numerous African townships near Johannesburg, Pretoria, Krugersdorp, Germiston, Benoni, Boksburg, Klerksdorp and Nelspruit - indeed, to most townships in the Witwatersrand-Pretoria area, as well as parts of Northern Transvaal, the Orange Free State and Natal. Students at the University of the North at Turfloop and the University of Zululand in Ngoya also demonstrated in sympathy and both institutions were closed.(1)

20. According to official figures, 176 persons were killed and 1,139 wounded, many of whom were small children. Over 1,300 persons were arrested. There is reason to believe that the total was actually much higher.

21. The immediate cause of the student demonstration in Soweto, as noted earlier, was the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in secondary schools.

22. It may be recalled that the South African regime segregated education in 1954 and instituted a "Bantu education" system for the Africans, based on the philosophy of the then Minister of Native Affairs, Mr. H. F. Verwoerd, that "there is no place for the Bantu in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour". The Africans were subjected to gross discrimination in education...

30. The Pretoria regime has gone through the pretence of consultations with members of the Urban Bantu Council, an apartheid institution scorned by the African people, and announced that the decision as to the medium of instruction would be left to the principals of schools, acting in consultation with their school boards and school committees. It also announced plans to provide electricity to all homes in Soweto in five to seven years and to grant greater powers to the Urban Bantu Councils.

31. While making these minor concessions in the hope of defusing resistance, the regime has categorically rejected demands for an end to apartheid and embarked on massive repression against the black people, as well as against whites who have called for an end to apartheid.

32. On 15 July, it put into force the indefinite detention provisions of the Internal Security Act and detained a large number of leaders of the South African Students Organization and the Black People's Convention. It gave formal warnings to several opponents of apartheid not to involve themselves in the situation.


IV. Need for Urgent Efforts to Isolate the Racist Regime and Assist the Oppressed People

33. The massacre in Soweto and related events demonstrate once again the inhumanity of the South African racist regime. They have shown that the black people of South Africa, who constitute the great majority of the population of the country, cannot secure attention to a solution of their day-to-day grievances, let alone attain their inalienable rights, by appeals and representations to the racist regime. The callousness of the Government to repeated appeals by African educators and parents to heed the demands of students and the massive violence against the student demonstrators have reinforced the conviction of the African people that peaceful protests are ineffective, and that they need to resort to all other necessary means of liberation from racist oppression and tyranny.

34. The recent events have demonstrated that the racist regime is incapable of moving away from apartheid and racial discrimination, as its representative promised before the Security Council in October 1974, and of seeking a solution based on the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

35. They have shown that there can be no solution to the grave situation in South Africa without the replacement of the minority racist regime by a Government based on the principle of equality and the exercise of the right of self-determination by all the people of South Africa.

36. The Special Committee takes note of a resolution on the Soweto massacre adopted by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at the twenty-seventh ordinary session of the Council of Ministers at the end of June 1976, that "the only effective guarantee for the African people of South Africa against the repetition of the massacres is the launching of an armed struggle for the seizure of power by the people".

37. The Special Committee considers that all those opposed to apartheid should abandon their vain efforts to persuade the criminal racist regime to abandon racism and should take firm action to isolate the racist regime and assist the oppressed people and their liberation movements in the struggle for the total eradication of apartheid and the exercise of the right of self-determination.


V. Action Taken by the Special Committee

43. Since the events of 16 June 1976, the Special Committee has attempted, in accordance with its mandate, to publicize the situation in South Africa and promote effective international action against apartheid.

44. In a statement on 17 June 1976, the Acting Chairman and the Rapporteur of the Committee pointed out that the events in Soweto were yet another example of the brutality of the Pretoria regime, and demonstrated the growing militancy of the oppressed people and their courage in the face of inhuman repression. They emphasized that the conflict in South Africa was a conflict between racism and non-racialism and added:

"In resolution 3411 C (XXX) of 28 November 1975, the General Assembly proclaimed that the United Nations and the international community have a special responsibility towards the oppressed people of South Africa and their liberation movements, and towards those imprisoned, restricted or exiled for their struggle against apartheid. Every crime committed by the Vorster regime against black people is, therefore, a direct affront to the United Nations and the international community. The killing of the black school children of Soweto is such a crime.

"On behalf of the Special Committee against apartheid, we appeal to all Governments and organizations to denounce this new crime of the Vorster regime.

"We appeal again for a total embargo on all supplies for the armed forces and police in South Africa, and for the total isolation of the South African racist regime."...


VI. Recommendations for Action

49. The Special Committee considers it imperative that the United Nations and the international community take urgent and effective action in the light of the present grave situation in South Africa, and in southern Africa as a whole, to secure the total eradication of apartheid and assist the South African people to exercise their right to self-determination. They must recognize that the South African racist regime, by its practice of the criminal policy of apartheid, continues to pose an ever-increasing grave threat to the peace in the area. They must recognize further the legitimacy of the struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa to secure their inalienable rights and must provide all necessary assistance to them in their struggle for liberation.

50. This has now become an urgent and inescapable task of the international community...

Document 79: Statement by Mr. Leslie O. Harriman (Nigeria), Chairman of the Special Committee against apartheid, on the proposal to declare "independence" of Transkei

UN Press Release GA/SP/596, 21 September 1976

According to press reports, the Prime Minister of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Balthazar John Vorster, and the Chief Minister of the bantustan administration in the Transkei, "Paramount Chief" Kaiser Matanzima, signed agreements on 17 September as a prelude to the "independence" of Transkei on 26 October.

As Chairman of the Special Committee against apartheid, I wish to declare that the agreements between these two men can have no validity. They are not agreements for the granting of the right of self-determination or independence to the African people, but a fraud perpetrated by the racist rulers and the government-appointed chiefs who act as their accomplices.

The sham "independence" of the Transkei is a step in the implementation of the diabolical scheme of the apartheid regime to deprive the African people - who constitute 70 per cent of the population of South Africa - of their rights of citizenship by relegating them to seven or eight bantustans to be established in 200 scattered reserves covering less than 13 per cent of the area of the country.

In the case of Transkei, the regime has decreed that not only the 1.7 million residents of the territory, but more than a million people of Xhosa origin in the rest of South Africa will become "citizens" of this phantom State on 26 October. The white Parliament in Cape Town has already enacted a law depriving all the people of Transkeian origin of citizenship. There is no parallel for this mass deprivation of citizenship except in Nazi Germany.

The African people have always fought against the manoeuvres of the apartheid regime to divide them arbitrarily into so-called ethnic groups, and establish bantustans as reservoirs of labour, and appropriate the rest of South Africa, whose economy has been built by the African labour for the ruling white minority.

The regime, however, proceeded to impose the bantustan scheme by resorting to brutal repression. Already six million people have been forcibly moved from their homes, and millions more are due to be moved.

In 1960, after the banning of the African National Congress of South Africa and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, the South African regime instituted a reign of terror in the Transkei under Proclamation 400 which provides for indefinite detention without trial. That Proclamation still remains in force.

While the leaders of the African people were imprisoned or forced into exile, the regime instituted so-called "self-government" in the Transkei in 1963. Despite banning of meetings and other acts of repression, the people voted against the supporters of bantustans led by Chief Kaiser Matanzima. But the so-called "legislative assembly" was stacked with a majority of government-appointed chiefs who elected him as Chief Minister. The regime made him a "paramount chief" in recognition of his services to the regime and his betrayal of the aspirations of the African people.

The "independence" which Vorster has now arranged with Matanzima does not in any way represent the will of the African people.

The Transkei, which consists of three isolated pieces of land, is not economically viable. Most of the able-bodied men in the territory are obliged to go to the white-owned mines, factories and farms in the rest of South Africa to find employment. The "independent" Transkei will remain totally dependent on South Africa.

Kaiser Matanzima has already declared that he would continue to enforce Proclamation 400 after "independence". He has assured investors that no African trade unions would be allowed in the territory. In July - August the entire leadership of the Transkei Democratic Party was detained for opposing "independence": the party was thus prevented from contesting the elections on 29 September. (The "parliament" of Transkei is to be composed of 75 elected members and 75 appointed chiefs.) Hundreds of African students have been arrested for opposing "independence" and Matanzima has threatened to deport anyone opposing independence.

The United Nations, the Organization of African Unity and the Conference of Non-aligned Countries have denounced bantustans and called on all States to refrain from recognition of Transkei's sham "independence". This position has been supported by the World Council of Churches and numerous non-governmental organizations.

Any recognition of the Transkei, and any dealings with the authorities in the Transkei, would constitute a hostile act against the oppressed people of South Africa and, indeed, against the United Nations which has declared special responsibility for them.

On behalf of the Special Committee against apartheid, I invite all States which have not yet done so to declare categorically that they will refrain from any form of recognition to the Transkei.

I appeal to all governments and organizations to observe 26 October 1976 as a day of solidarity with the peoples of South Africa and Namibia in their struggle against bantustans and for the territorial integrity of their nations.

The destiny of South Africa shall be determined, not by the illegitimate racist regime and its accomplices among tribal chiefs, but by the people of South Africa and their genuine representatives - above all, the leaders of the liberation movement who are now in prison and in exile or underground in South Africa.