Soweto Riots by Sam Nzima, 1976

The Soweto Riots were a series of clashes in Soweto, South Africa on June 16,1976 between black youths and the South African apartheid authorities. The children of Soweto took to the streets to protest against being made to study in Afrikaans. They marched quietly, carrying hand-painted banners that read “To hell with Afrikaans”, and dressed in school uniforms to emphasise the peaceful nature of the protest.

By the end of the day, as many as 176 of them were dead.

The riots were made iconic by the above photograph of 12-year old Hector Pieterson’s dead body captured by Sam Nzima. He remembered: “The police told them to disperse. So the students started to sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika — now it’s the national anthem, but then it was banned. That song provoked them. The commander pulled out his gun and shot them. I saw the little boy fall down.”

Pieterson was carried by Mbuyisa Makhubu, his face torn by pain. Pieterson’s sister Antoinette dressed in her school uniform can be seen running alongside. The photo which caused outrage and brought down international condemnation on the Apartheid government was the third of six quick shots Nzima took of three children coming toward him. He helped take them to the nearest clinic.

Realizing that he had captured a “powerful” image, he also knew that the police would want to confiscate the film. After taking the pictures, Nzima removed the film from his camera and hid it in his sock. “So I quickly gave the film to our driver and told him to go straight to our office. By the afternoon the image had been transmitted worldwide.” Nzima got no more than a 100-Rand bonus and the congratulations of his colleagues and the editors at The World newspaper. 

Accused of portraying South Africa in a bad light, he was hunted down by police and forced to leave Soweto where he lived with his wife and four children. His photograph was soon censored and The World shut down. Other papers asked Nzima to join them but fearing for his safety, he briefly retired. Makhubu also became No. 1 on the police hit list, and he hid and later went on the run. He practically disappeared, but resurfaced only decades later in Canada, being held on immigration charges.


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0 thoughts on “Soweto Riots by Sam Nzima, 1976

  1. Hello, do you know who owns the rights to the photo and how I could contact them? I’m a designer that is busy designing a museum in Pietermaritzburg South Africa and I’m struggling to find out who I can contact to buy the rights. Hope you can help.

  2. director of the organisation for african herbalists in the free state province.
    also traditional healer self
    working in developing all traditional healers in all provinces.

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