The struggle to end apartheid rule in South Africa was not as easy as it sounds. It involved bloodshed, in the hands of the cruel oppressors. The Soweto uprising was one of the instances that had the greatest influence in the struggle. Innocent lives like Hector Pieterson were lost.
The freedom that most people enjoy today did not come easy. It involved a series of protests that gave rise to the Soweto uprising. During the uprising, most innocent people lost their lives. Among those that died was Hector Pieterson. The pictures of his dead body being carried stirred emotions in the country. His life and those who died during the demonstration is celebrated on June 16th every year. It is marked as the National Youth Day.
Why is Hector Pieterson famous?
Hector Pieterson is associated with the Soweto uprising. He became the iconic image of the uprising after a photograph of his dead body being carried by his fellow student was published in several newspapers. He was among the people that lost their lives as they revolted the use of Afrikaans language in school. The conditions of his death are what drew the attention of most people. The post morterm that was conducted on his body stated that he had been shot at directly, at a close range, and not as an effect of a bullet rebound from the ground as the police claimed.
READ ALSO: Why do we celebrate youth day South Africa?
How old was Hector Pieterson when he died?
Hector Pieterson was born in 1963. He was killed on June 16 1976. By the time of his death, he was barely twelve years old.
16th June, which is commonly referred to as the National Youth Day in South Africa, refers to the day when South Africans pay tribute to the youths who took it upon themselves to rise and fight discrimination and fight for a new democracy. The day has special roots in the Soweto Uprising. The Soweto Uprising was a movement that rose to fight the oppressive leadership of the National Party (NP). The movement was against the Afrikaans Medium Decree which insisted on Afrikaans and English being made the official languages in the school.
The protests by the Soweto Uprising protests began in June 16th 1976. The protests spread to the rest of the country and changed its social characteristics. The uprising was as a revolt against the apartheid policies that were oppressive to the black South Africans. This led to the formation of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO), whose aim was to raise the political consciousness of the black South Africans. By 1974, students were already mobilizing themselves under the South African Students Organisation (SASO) as the uprising gained momentum in the country.
On 16th June 1976, 3000 to 10000 students that had been mobilized by the South African Students Movement's Action Committee started a peaceful demonstration. They were under the support of the BCM and they were revolting against the list of apartheid laws that did not favour the black South Africans. Their plan was to match to the Orlando stadium where they would have a rally.
Their plan, however, did not come to pass. Along the way, they came across a group of armed policemen. The policemen fired teargas and ammunition at them. The attack on the students led into a revolt, and later on an uprising. The uprising that had started in Soweto spread to the other parts of the country. The uprising went on until the following year.
As the news about the protest in South Africa was reported, the images of policemen firing ammunition at the students that were exposed. Among those that lost their lives and their pictures were shared in the Soweto uprising pictures is Hector Pieterson. In the pictures that were shared, Mbuyisa Makhubo was the 18-year old that appeared to be carrying the late Pieterson in his arms. The exiled liberation movements received new recruits who joined in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Apart from Pieterson, another young boy; Hastings Ndlovu, who was the first person to be shot at by the police. Apart from the two, a total of five hundred and sixty-six children were killed during the June 16th 1976 protest. In their commemoration for playing a part in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, June 16th was declared a public holiday. It is currently marked as the June 16 youth day.
Hector Pieterson memorial
In the early nineties, the Hector Pieterson memorial site was erected, a few blocks from where he was shot, in Orlando, Soweto. Every 16th day of June every year, on youth day South Africa, people would gather at the block to mark the day.
Hector Pieterson museum
Later in 2002, a museum, Hector Pieterson museum was opened. The museum is situated behind the memorial site. The picture that was shared of the latter during the killing has been carved on the memorial site. The site is a significance of the struggle to end the cruel apartheid rule and the brutal killing of innocent students whose motive was to be heard.
Masana Sam Nzima is the man behind the whole coverage of the South Africa protest and covering the 1976 Soweto uprising. He has received accolades for being brave and for taking risks to capture pictures during the Soweto uprising. He was among those that were targeted by the policemen.
Hector Pieterson is one of the young schoolchildren who lost their lives during the Soweto uprising. The conditions of their death stirred an emotional atmosphere in the country. In commemoration of their death and their significance in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, June 16th was set as a national holiday.
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