Violence is inevitable as black frustration and anger with apartheid “crystallized into a powder keg.” In 1976, the white government declares that all black schools must teach Afrikaans rather than English as their primary language. On June 16, 10,000 students hold a peaceful protest march in Soweto. Hundreds of police officers meet them in the street and open fire, killing hundreds of children. Mathabane cries when he reads the story in the paper, and realizes that his life is at an inescapable turning point. His classmates declare that they will not sit idly in school while their fellows die to police brutality, and they devote all of their time to protests and organizing.
The police’s shooting of unarmed children reiterates how totalitarian and ruthless apartheid’s defenders can be. The police presence and assault suggests that the government will not tolerate even peaceful black dissension from apartheid rule. Such suppression, backed by violence, casts the South African government as a totalitarian regime, bent on keeping its majority population subjugated, silent, and afraid.
A rally of hundreds of students forms—joined even by children who aren’t students—and marches to the local stadium to protest. Black adults cheer them on as they pass. A police brigade arrives with weapons and charges into the body of students. Gunshots ring, and chaos ensues. As Mathabane and David escape and try to return to Alexandra, they notice that white people are fleeing. White soldiers with automatic rifles hold them up and say that no buses are allowed into Alexandra—they must walk. “The rebellion ha[s] begun in Alexandra.”
The presence of soldiers with automatic weapons suggests that the South African government is deploying its military against its own people, against children. This again depicts the apartheid rulers as brutal dictators who crush rebellion by any means necessary. The flood of white people out of the city shows they fear the black majority uprising.
All over the country, ghettos erupt into looting and violence. Black mobs destroy buildings and raid shops owned by Indian and Chinese families. Hundreds die in clashes with police. White families flee the country or buy weapons. Mathabane finds himself swept into “bloodthirsty mobs” and feels “possessed by a sinister force.” He loots and smashes shops, and momentarily recognizes the nihilism of it all but is overcome with “euphoria as I saw black peasants making off with plundered goods.” He sees the “poverty of hate and anger” in the faces around him.
The explosion of violence and Mathabane’s temporary cognizance of its senselessness suggests that black anger and hatred have swelled to their breaking point; such violence is the inevitable manifestation of decades of suppressed pain and anger. It is, however, both ironic and tragic that black looters destroy Indian and Chinese shops, since both of these ethnic groups are also oppressed by the white government.
The army arrives, firing bullets and tear gas into the crowds of black people. One of Mathabane’s neighbors, a girl he grew up with, is shot dead and the police drag her body away. The police make her parents buy her corpse back so they can bury her. As they bury her that weekend, Mathabane cries and thinks to himself that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.’s doctrines of nonviolence don’t work in South Africa. Freedom can only be won through bloodshed. But Mathabane isn’t sure if he has the will to kill another human being.
The white police’s demand that the parents buy their daughter’s body from them so they can bury their child seems utterly inhumane. This instance reveals the depth of apartheid’s depravity and suggests that the white authorities are entirely apathetic to black people’s pain and suffering. If anything, they seem to enjoy it.