Hector Pieterson Memorial Site, Johannesburg
The Hector Pieterson* Memorial and museum opened in Soweto in 2002, not far from the spot where 12 year-old Hector was shot on the 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising that today is a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government.
Soweto, a city developed as a township for black people during apartheid, lies south of Johannesburg. Its residents number some two million people with homes that range from shacks to extravagant mansions, and the Hector Pieterson Memorial site is included on any number of tours through the area. On 16 June on the day Hector was killed, school children had gathered to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in township schools. There are contradictory accounts of just who gave the first command to shoot but as children began singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and before they could be dispersed, the police opened fire. Some 20 children died in the ensuing pandemonium.
Hector Pieterson has become something of an iconic image of the fateful day, mostly due to a photograph published across the globe by Sam Nzima, photographer at the time for The World newspaper in Johannesburg, of the dying Hector carried by a fellow student, Hector’s sister alongside, her hands held out in panic. Today 16 June is National Youth Day to honour young people.
Since its erection, the memorial plaque for Hector Pieterson has been repeatedly vandalized; ironically it seems due to children who don’t understand the relevance or important historical implications of the memorial.
* Since June 1976, Hector's surname has been spelled Peterson and Pietersen 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" (the apartheid-era name for people of mixed race), as Coloured people enjoyed somewhat better privileges under apartheid than blacks did. .
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