In March 1960, anti-apartheid activists organized demonstrations to protest, among other things, against the introduction of a compulsory identification document (the Pass) for all Blacks. In Sharpeville, a Black township, the police fired on the crowd of demonstrators, killing 69 people and wounding 160. The police claimed that they had acted in self-defense, but medical reports show that the majority of the victims were shot in the back. The international community condemned the massacre as the country experienced weeks of violence, protests and mass arrests.

In 1976, the government decided that the teaching of science should be done in only in the Afrikaans language. Angry African students took to the streets to protest. In Soweto, a Black township, the police fired on the demonstrators, killing a young boy.  Students revolted and began attacking the symbols of apartheid. The police made ​​thousands of arrests. Many were jailed for weeks with trial, and dozens of prisoners died from mistreatment. The repression that followed this crisis resulted in nearly 1500 casualties among the demonstrators. Since 1991, Youth Day is celebrated every year on June 16. This celebration is in memory of the massacre of the children of Soweto.

The early 1980s was marked by many episodes of violence. Clashes between anti-apartheid groups and forces resulted in many victims. In 1985, in spite of a softening of apartheid measures, the Black population was more rebellious than ever. This group loudly denounced residential segregation, separating the population into racial groups and the prohibition of the right to vote. In retaliation, the government declared a state of emergency, and there were more than 30,000 arrests. Torture, corporal punishment and death sentences were common during this period.

It was not until 1984 that the measures of apartheid began to be gradually abolished in order to calm the opposition. Nelson Mandela was released from jail in February 1990. He was finally elected as first president of the new democratic South Africa in 1994.

Author:  Marianne Giguère

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