In South Africa on Friday (11 May) four students accused of leading the 1976 riots in the black township of Soweto were sent to prison on terms of between two and four years.
In South Africa on Friday (11 May) four students accused of leading the 1976 riots in the black township of Soweto were sent to prison on terms of between two and four years. Seven other students received suspended sentences of five years each.
SYNOPSIS: The trial, at a courthouse in the white suburb of Kempton Park, in Johannesburg, had lasted for seven months. On the day of sentencing the brick-built court was under heavy guard from police armed with sub-machine guns.
The long trial here, in a building on the far side of Johannesburg from Soweto, enquired in detail into the bloody events of June 1976. Then, the troubles in Soweto spread around South Africa, eventually claiming the lives of more than 500 blacks.
The eleven defendants were all members of the Soweto Students Representative Council...an organisation that has now been outlawed. Their defence lawyer argued they wanted to organise peaceful demonstrations against the education system for blacks, and did not foresee there would be clashes with police. The prosecutor argued the riots were started by students to confront the authorities and were part of a carefully planned programme.
Before sentence was passed the students gave clenched fist salutes and chanted a black nationalist slogan.
Outside the court at the end of the trial reaction by black was generally that the sentences were lighter than they expected.
After the sentence the defence lawyer gave notice of appeal....and said he planned to challenge the trial judge's ruling on sedition in a higher court. When the defendants, aged between 19 and 24, were found guilty by the judge he ruled that attempts to subvert, assail or defy the government would constitute sedition.
During the court hearing the prosecution called more than 100 witnesses....two of these alleged they had been assaulted by police. One of the defendants, Daniel Montsitsi a former president of the student organisation, also claimed he had been assaulted by the police. He received the heaviest sentence, eight years in jail, four of them suspended.