2016, a year of recollection and remembrance – it is 40 years after the Soweto Uprisings, a date that marks a significant shift in the struggle against apartheid, but it is the year where a generation of so-called “born frees” are again fighting for access to education.
In the four decades since the Soweto Uprising, a consensus account of the politics of the mid-1970s, and the role of Soweto in them, has emerged. In this account, the Uprising arises out of a period of political quiescence. It is the moment of the emergence of a new generation of activists – mostly under the age of twenty years – who would go on to drive politics in the future. And it was the product of local resistance to national state policies and practices, shaped by the experiences of students in Soweto, of youth gangs in the neighbourhood and their contingent encounters with the police, and taken up nationally. This consensus story sees the Soweto Uprising as a solitary moment of transition, from apartheid hegemony to popular resistance.
The Road To Soweto: Resistance and the Uprising of 16 June 1976 begins by giving an account of the decade that preceded the Soweto Uprising of June 1976 that not only transforms our understanding of this crucial flashpoint of South Africa’s history, but also creates a longer, more evolutionary, historical narrative for the overthrow of apartheid. It argues that the suppression of opposition movements after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 did not lead to a period of ‘quiescence’, as many writers maintain, in which activists retreated into private acts of dissent and the opposition went underground, followed, a decade later, by a sudden eruption of the townships, first in Soweto, and then across the country.
Rather, these years were marked by experiments in resistance and attempts to develop new forms of politics which prepared the ground for the uprising in Soweto, introducing new modes of organisation, new models of protest, and new ideas of resistance, identity, and political ideology to a generation of activists. The explosion of protest in Soweto was a catalyst for the reshaping of South Africa’s politics and began the processes that led to the end of the apartheid order and the creation of the new post-apartheid state, but it did not do so in isolation.
About the author
Julian Brown is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is the author of South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of Politics in South Africa (Jacana, 2015), as well as of a number of scholarly articles on South African politics, history and socio-legal studies. He completed a DPhil in Modern History at the University of Oxford in 2009.
The Road To Soweto: Resistance and the Uprising of 16 June 1976 is published by Jacana Media