The Tear Gas and Songs of Soweto

Student protesters in Soweto i i

Police opened fire on the student protesters in Soweto, killing 23 and injuring hundreds. Unrest began to spread across the country. Keystone/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Keystone/Getty Images
Student protesters in Soweto

Police opened fire on the student protesters in Soweto, killing 23 and injuring hundreds. Unrest began to spread across the country.

Keystone/Getty Images

A question about apartheid in South Africa 30 years ago: "Do you take what your father has taken or do you stand up for what you think it right?"

The speaker is Thandi Modise and he is recalling the mood in the black townships for producers Joe Richman and Ben Shapiro. They collected memories and newscast accounts of the uprising that began on June 16, 1976, in the schools of Soweto and spread throughout the white-controlled country.

Nelson Mandela was in prison. Leadership would emerge from a younger generation. The enforced teaching of Afrikaans became the focus of discontent. This was action schoolchildren could take, and students walked out of five schools in Soweto, holding hands, to gather in a stadium and sing freedom songs. They were attacked by police, government troops, and dogs. At least two youngsters died in gunfire.

The movement veterans Richman and Shapiro met have an earned pride in their voices, as apartheid eventually fell and Mandela was elected president in 1994. You'll notice this is a radio feature without narration. "When you have great voices like this, it can be more powerful to step back," Joe Richman tells me. He says the technique doesn't work in all cases and the producers had critical narrative help here from the archival newscast tape.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.