June 16 1976: A happy picture that masks the sorrow of a bloody and violent day.

PUBLISHED: Tue, 16 Jun 2020 15:42:37 GMT

This looks like a picture to celebrate happy school days – yet, it is not; behind the smiles was sorrow. The snap was taken outside Morris Isaacson School, in Soweto, on the morning of June 16 1976 as children prepared to march into a day of blood and violence. By the evening three of the children lay bloodied and bruised as police opened fire killing at least 176 school children.

Mary Fisher, who grew up in Meadowlands, Soweto, was crouching to the right of the picture. She lives in Johannesburg and spoke to CNBC Africa about her brush with death during the 1976 uprising and the story behind the picture:         

“We thought this was going to be the last time we were going to see each other. We thought let’s take a memory picture so we won’t forget each other – I am the one squatting there. So if we lose each other we will at least have a memory. We put our placards on the floor; we took this picture just in case we are not coming back. 

We had assembly in the morning and during we sang Senzeni Na (what have we done ). We all sang together freedom songs and after that we started lifting the placards and the teachers were standing aside. Then Tsietsi Mashanini  (a Morris Isaacson pupil and one of the leaders of the uprising) says Amandla  and we all said Awethu!

READ:June 16 1976: The man behind the high school that made history: who was Morris Isaacson?

We marched out carrying our placards. We were showing our placards and singing all the freedom songs and walking and with one long, big, voice; there were so many.

Morris Isaacson was in the lead the other schools followed behind. Children from nearby schools primary schools they all came with their placards. By that time we didn’t know how big this was going to be. We thought it was only Morris Isaacson and Naledi High. We were heading for Orlando West we were supposed to collect other schools   As we got to Orlando we heard gunshots we were in the middle, but most of the guys were in the front…They were so brave that they always wanted to lead. Even, even when thugs wanted to attack the ladies at school they always wanted to protect the girls. We had so much brotherly love for one another. We heard the gunshots, then, we stopped the march. People were saying people are shot and there are two down now. So we started panicking, what I did with my friends, we ran into the schoolyard trying to hide in the classrooms.

As they were shooting we were scattered all over running into the houses… As I looked I saw behind me this dog. I was an athlete at school and thought I could outrun this dog. The dog was about to get my leg and one of the boys hit it with a dustbin. Then the police started shooting I didn’t see because I jumped over the fence. I don’t know if they got this guy.

We could hear helicopters and we thought wow now they are going to bomb the area and we are now going die. We were also aware that anything can happen. They will just come don’t switch on the light because aeroplanes can pass and see where Soweto is so they can drop a bomb. So we already had that fear that anything can happen to us we are not safe…

Everything was quiet at 6pm when we were at home bleeding and shaking with fear. The more they hit us; the more we bled and got angry; there were boys who took a dustbin and a stone thinking it will stop a bullet.

They made us so angry. We felt we did nothing and yet you want to kill us…In my mother tongue, there is a saying that says: ‘Don’t die like a sheep, you must die like a horse you must kick.’ You don’t just die, the person who is killing you must also get hurt…So we thought let’s just fight with our little stone. ..We were thinking: enough is enough.

It has made us fight for justice, even in my old age I don’t like bullies. I don’t like to be bullied and don’t stand to see people bullying one another. Sometimes when someone tries to steal my rights I always fight – so I’m always an activist for justice. I will not sit back and let other people take advantage or take anything that belongs to me.”         

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