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S. Africa report: apartheid set off riots of '76

A judicial commission of inquiry formally appointed by the South African government has produced a 1,000-page report that amounts to a severe indictment of the government's own policies.

It blames the system of enforced racial, economic, social, and political segregation -- known as apartheid -- for causing "hatred" of the whites among the country's blacks, Asians, and Coloreds (people of mixed racial descent).

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It also implies that this system ultimately was to blame for the countrywide riots that erupted in 1976.

Nearly 600 persons died in the riots (most of them were shot by the police), nearly 4,000 were injured, and the damage that resulted was estimated at more than $55 million.

The report has been a long time coming. One reason for this is that, even after Judge P. M. Cillie was appointed after the worst of the rioting seemed over, there were sporadic new riots in areas dotted around the country.

Another reason is the enormous amount of evidence Judge Cillie and his assessors collected. Much of it makes it clear that important causes of the revolt, mainly involving young people still at school, are the very cornerstones of the government's apartheid policy. But the immediate reason that sparked the trouble was bitter black opposition to the enforced use of Afrikaans (the language of South Africa's white Afrikaners) in black schools.

Witnesses talked bitterly about the "influx control" laws that prevent thousands of black workers from the rural areas bringing their families to live with them in the cities; the Group Areas Act, which has led to the forced removal of thousands upon thousands of Colored people in particular from their homes because of regulations proclaiming that these are located in "white" areas; and the daily hurt and injustice of racial discrimination, both official and unofficial.

It also blames officials for being bunglers and notes that the police were unprepared for the uprising -- although there were obvious signs that trouble was coming.

The report also provides many poignant examples of what apartheid can mean to South Africa's blacks. For example, it seems that the black pupils of a certain school in the sleepy and attractively wooded university town of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, had good reason to demonstrate.

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They had been summarily dispossessed of their school because a proclamation decreed that it suddenly fell in a white area, and they saw the building being cleaned up and apparently prepared for white children.

In another Cape Province town, Mossel Bay, Colored children who had inferior facilities and accomodation at their own school demonstrated because they were refused permission to use another school -- which was standing empty -- because it was in a white area.

The report also shows why many Coloreds have become so bitter at the way they have been treated by the whites that they now regard the black Africans as their natural "brothers-in-arms."

This is particularly chilling to whites, who have always regarded the Colored people as being more inclined toward them, if there should ever be a confrontation with the blacks, who form the overwhelming majority of the population.

As for the blacks themselves, the commission found that young people in Soweto, the huge township near Johannesburg, the country's biggest City, regard the riots as their "baptism of fire," in which they lost their fear of violence.

There also has been an exceptional deterioration in the attitude of young blacks toward the whites, it was reported. Large numbers of black youths now reject negotiation with the government and believe that the way to "liberation" is through violence.


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