On the morning of 16th June 1976, thousands of students from secondary schools in Soweto gathered to march in protest the compulsory introduction of Afrikaans as a language of tuition. The students had organised themselves and were led by the South African Student’s Movement and the Soweto Students Representative Council and were supported by the Black Consciousness Movement.
The students gathered at their respective schools and marched towards Uncle Tom’s Municipal Hall in Orlando West joining streams from other schools on their way. There were about 11 streams of students making their way towards Orlando West. The students were to meet at Uncle Tom’s and move to the Orlando Stadium where they were to hold a rally.
However, the students were met along the way by heavy police force who used tear gas and live ammunition to try dispersing the students. There are reports that the tear gas canisters did not go off, nor were there any requests to disperse or warning shots fired. These are contrary to the official police records. Chaos ensued when the police opened fire with some students such as Hastings Ndlovu and Hector Pieterson being killed.
Enraged using deadly force the students pushed back at the police chanting freedom slogans. Determined to take a stand and strike a blow at White domination, the students burnt buildings and cars and looted beer halls shouting slogans such as “Less Liquor Better Education”. The rioting continued for 3 days in Soweto and spread across the country in what became one of the largest and most widespread riots in South Africa’s history. The revolt continued well in to the following year leaving hundreds dead and millions worth of infrastructural damage.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial (erected by the ANC Youth League and unveiled by former President Nelson Mandela in 1992) was recommended and approved for declaration as a National Monument by the Council of the National Monuments Council in February 1995. When developments of the Hector Pieterson square and museum attempts were made to extend the area for declaration to include the square and museum. However, this did not materialise. SAHRA erected and unveiled a memorial boulder on 16 June 2002 near the memorial.
The June 16 Trail was developed by the City of Johannesburg following the thesis by Ali Hlangwani and marks the 11 streams of students and the routes taken to the central points in Orlando West. The Trail links the various schools that participated as well as other sites of importance to the Youth Uprisings. These include Morris Isaacson High School, the June 16 Memorial Acre and the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, places where students confronted police and where students such as Hastings Ndlovu and Hector Pieterson were shot. The route that the students marched is marked with red walkways. The trail was developed by the City of Johannesburg’s Arts Culture and Heritage Directorate for the 30th Anniversary of the Uprisings in 2006.