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New play revisits the 1976 Soweto uprising Print E-mail
07 June 2017

76 Behind Peterson, a new play about the June 16 1976 Soweto uprising written by Themba Mnyando, is packing them in at the Roodepoort Theatre ahead of the 41st anniversary of the day when apartheid police shot and killed school children peacefully protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools.

Busloads of learners from several Soweto schools have since Monday, 7 June been making their way to the venue to watch the show sketching an event that exposed apartheid’s barbarity and bankruptcy and accelerated the struggle for freedom.

The excitement – from the moment the children get off the buses right through up to the time when the young actors take a bow at the end of the hour-long play – is palpable.

Clad in black and white school uniforms with raised fists, the actors start by singing Africa, My Beginning, a popular struggle song. The main characters - Simphiwe and Thabang - start organising the protest. Despite her mother and uncle warning her and her schoolmates against putting themselves in police harm's way, Simphiwe is determined to go ahead with it.

Thabang is later accused of being a sell-out. Throughout the dialogue, the cast exposes the brutality of apartheid security police, with Meneer and Constable Jack taking centre-stage. Despite this danger, Simphiwe stands up to the white policeman who torments her. The children gasp in horror when Thabang is necklaced for being a snitch.

For adults, 76 Behind Peterson is a familiar but painful story, a reminder of the dark days of apartheid. For the children who filled the auditorium, it is a history lesson delivered to them by their peers. They can identify with the young actors who sing familiar struggle songs, use the township slang and make the story more relatable through - just like in Mbongeni Ngema's Sarafina - Music, foot-stomping and slogans.

They get the message because they laugh, clap, whistle and applaud. At the end of the show they ask why apartheid was so brutal and the boers so heartless. They also want to know how black people dealt with the pain.

Delivered in English, isiZulu, isiXhosa and Setswana, 76 Behind Peterson also puts the spotlight on the challenges today’s youth face, including diseases such as HIV-Aids. But it is also about bravery, unity, pride, dignity and forgiveness.

Two educators from Margaret Gwele Primary School in Dobsonville who accompanied some of the children on Tuesday, 6 June were equally captivated by the performance of the 12-member cast and a three-piece live band.

“This is a great play. The timing is excellent because it’s Youth Month and we are teaching them in Social Science about what really happened on June 16 1976,” said one of the educators.
“This show is of huge benefit to the children. It’s very relevant, this month especially. We started teaching the history at the beginning of the month and the presentation is spot on,” said her colleague.

Nhlanhla Khoza and Khanyisile Mabasa, both Grade 9 pupils at Khindlimukani Junior Secondary School in Meadowlands Zone 10, were still excited long after the show.
“It’s an amazing show and it’s very educational,” said Nhlanhla.

“It’s my first time in a theatre,” said Khanyisile. “Now I understand how brutal apartheid was. I would like to see more shows like this.”

The show runs until Thursday, June 8. Tickets are available at R30 a child. Bookings can be made at

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Last Updated on 19 June 2017