Soweto: Chaos, Riots and Death

A dead or dying Hector Pieterson being carried away from the area in Soweto where the police had opened fire against protesting or rioting teenagers.

As explained in the previous chapter, discontent among black youth led to mass protests and the eruption of violence in Soweto in 1976. Police on site fired live ammunition at protesters and, on the opposite side, mobs of black people proceeded to attack the police, burn government property and loot local stores. Violence spurred more violence, and over the next few days, hundreds of people, including many youth, were injured or killed by police bullets. Moreover, as a consequence of black gangs going berserk in their own district, a black police officer and a few civilian whites were killed and parts of Soweto lay in ruins.

Making headlines worldwide

The events in Soweto made headlines around the world, and as expected, the international community was outraged at the mass killing of South African teenagers. Likewise, many South Africans accused the government of murder and both black and white police officers hereafter came under increasing attack from angry blacks who despised their involvement in the country’s suppressive security apparatus.

Furthermore, as a result of the tragic events in Soweto, the stakes had been raised in society as a whole, and fear grew throughout South Africa. Ordinary whites, too, started to feel increasingly insecure, and as explained in the next chapter, violence and repression in society intensified.