Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Hector Pieterson (1964 - 16 June 1976) became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto Uprising in apartheid South Africa when a news photograph by Sam Mzima of the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student, was published around the world. He was killed at the age of 12 when the police opened fire on protesting students. For years, 16 June stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Today, it's known as National Youth Day - a day on which South Africans honour young people and bring attention to their needs.
On 16 June, 1976, school children protested over the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in township schools. By the end of that fateful day 566 children were dead.
There is some debate about the extent to which several student organisations, in particular the South African Students Organisation and the South Africa Students Movement, were involved in the lead-up to the uprising. The role of the liberation movements - the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress - is also unclear.
But it is generally agreed that tensions in schools had been growing from February 1976 when two teachers at the Meadowlands Tswana School Board were dismissed for their refusal to teach in Afrikaans. Students and teachers throughout Soweto echoed this sentiment, and the African Teachers' Association of South Africa presented a memorandum to this effect to the Education Department. From mid-May around a dozen schools went on strike, and several students refused to write mid-year exams.
On 16 June, students from three schools - Belle Higher Primary, Phefeni Junior Secondary, and Morris Isaacson High - planned to march from their schools to the Orlando Stadium. When they got to Matsike High (now Orlando High), police intervened and ordered the children to disperse. They started singing Nkosi Sikelel and before they could be dispersed, police opened fire .
There are conflicting accounts of who gave the first command to shoot, but soon children were turning and running in all directions, leaving some children lying wounded on the road.
It was widely publisised that Hector was the first child to die that fateful day but another boy, Hastings Ndlovu, was actually the first child to be shot. But in the case of Hastings, there were no photographers on the scene, and his name never became famous.
When Hector was shot and fell on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets, he was picked up by Mbuyisa Makhubo (then 18 years old), another schoolboy, who together with Hector's sister, Antoinette (then 17 years old), ran towards Sam Mzima press car, where he was bundled in, and taken to a nearby clinic, where he was pronounced dead. Mbuyisa and Mzima where harassed by the police after the incident and both went into hiding. Mbuyisa's mother told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that she received a letter from Mbuyisa in 1978 from Nigeria but she has not heard from him since.
Hector Pieterson along with Hasting Ndova are buried at Avalon Cemetery, Soweto.
Pitso or Petersen or Pieterson
Since June 1976, Hector's surname has been spelt Petersen by the press but the family insists that the correct spelling is Pieterson. The Pieterson family was originally the Pitso family but decided to adopt the Pieterson name to try to pass as "coloured", a minority apartheid grouping who had slightly better privileges, like marginally higher wages.
Hector Pieterson Museum
The Hector Pieterson Museum became the first museum to open in Soweto on 16 June 2002. It houses all the information about the events leading up to and including the Soweto Upraising. It can be found on Kumalo Street, Orlando West, Soweto, two blocks away from where Hector was shot and fell. The cost of the museum which opened in June 2002 was covered by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, with a donation of R 16 million. A further R 7,2 million was donated by the Johannesburg City Council for the interior and the museum displays.
Antoinette Pieterson works at the Museum giving guided tours.
On 9 August 2002 Ed Fagan led a $50bn class action suit by apartheid-era victims against international firms and banks who profited from dealings with the apartheid regime. Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Dorothy Molefi, Hector's mother. The South African government including Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Desmond Tutu have distanced themselves from the lawsuit.
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