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Soweto Student Uprising

The Soweto Uprising was a series of protests led by black students in the South African township of Soweto. The protests began in June, 1976 to fight against Afrikaans being used as the medium of instruction for math and science in Soweto schools. English had been the preferred medium of instruction for black students since the education systems in townships and Homelands were created. Not only was Afrikaans a symbol of Afrikaner nationalism fueled by the oppression of black people, Afrikaans does not have words for many scientific and mathematical terms, such as sine, cosine, and tangent. Because of this, lessons on these topics could no longer be taught. English was also becoming the language of commerce and industry, so no longer teaching in it excludes black people from those fields.

The protests started on June 16, 1976. It is estimated that 20,000 students walked out and participated in the protests. Parents and community members participated as well by boycotting and protesting work. Even though the protests were peaceful, they were met by police brutality. Official counts say 176 were killed, but it is estimated that as many as 700 people were killed, some of them as young as 12. Images of this police brutality caused international protest and disgrace for the South African government. Today June 16 is celebrated as a national holiday.

The fight over the use and teaching of Afrikaans is still going on today. Many Universities in Southern Africa, Europe, and the United States still teach Afrikaans, and many universities in South Africa continue to use it as a medium of instruction. The University of Pretoria, after much protest has decided to no longer use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. More protests of these kinds are happening around the world.

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