Visiting the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

Soweto_HP_3_1I recently visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, memorial dedicated to one of the first students to be shot dead during the 16 June 1976 Soweto Massacre. This was 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who became the symbol of the Soweto Uprising.  The picture of his dead body being carried away by another student, Mbuyisa Makhubo, while his sister  Antoinette Sithole ran beside them in tears, was captured by news photographer Sam Nzima, and made it worldwide. When Hector was shot, he fell on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets, he was picked up by Mbuyisa Makhubo who together with Hector’s sister, Antoinette (then 17 years old), ran towards Sam Nzima‘s car. They bundled him in, and the journalist Sophie Tema drove him to a nearby clinic where he was pronounced dead. Mbuyisa and Nzima were harassed by the police after the incident and both went into hiding.

Soweto_HP_2_1Visiting the museum brought some odd images, because it shows the brutality of the apartheid government against children… Imagine that: an entire government unleashing dogs, police officers, and guns on children! 1500 heavily armed police patrolling the area overnight with automatic rifles, stun guns, and carbines; driving in armored vehicles with helicopters, while the South African army was ordered on standby… for repression on school children. Such barbary!

Well, I am glad there is an entire monument dedicated to the memory of Hector Pieterson, and above all to all those children who lost their lives on 16 June 1976, and who triggered the end of apartheid.

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16 June 1976: Soweto Uprising from Sarafina!

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Sarafina poster (Wikipedia)

In order to remember the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising, I decided to share with you these images and song from the movie Sarafina! which focused on the 1976 Soweto riots. It is simply beautiful! The character says: “They fear you because you are young, they fear you because you are the future; How fearful they must be that they shoot you children? How powerful you must be that they fear you so much. You are powerful because you are the generation that will be free. The violence, the beatings, the torture, the killings, all this is the bad pain of our free nation. … Freedom is coming tomorrow!” In essence, this is a message for all the youth around the world: You are the future, you are strong, take hold of it, and do the best!

Soweto 1976 and Marikana 2012: any similarities?

Marikana, 16 August 2012
Marikana, 16 August 2012

With the cleansing ceremony for the Marikana massacre taking place today, I couldn’t help but think about similarities, if any, between the Soweto uprisings of 1976, and the Marikana miners’ strike of 2012.

First of all, the Soweto uprising on June 16, 1976, was a movement of school children protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium in school and the fact that this was essentially limiting their career opportunities leading them to mostly menial jobs later in life; besides Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor, and in itself a symbol of oppression.  The school children were reprimanded in blood by police from the apartheid government of John Vorster.  It was a brutal repression.  The pictures, particularly, that of Hector Pieterson‘s dead body being carried away by another student alongside his sister, were just heart-wrenching.

Soweto uprising 16 June 1976
Soweto uprising 16 June 1976

Over 30 years later, Marikana happened, albeit not on the same giant scale.  Miners protesting for wages were repressed in blood by the police on 16 August 2012; this time under the free government of the rainbow nation led by Jacob Zuma.  The violence used by the police was just as shocking, and has been compared by the media to the Sharpeville massacre.

Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)
Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)

The similarities are important: both events showed police brutality against unarmed school children (Soweto 1976), and unarmed miners (Marikana 2012); Note: there are some claims that one miner shot first at the police before the police opened fire at Marikana, and images show that some of the miners had machetes.  Both events showed poor judgment (more like lack of judgment) from government, and police repressive use of force.  Both events harbored bloodshed.  What Marikana 2012 showed us is that police brutality is the same decades later.  I always wondered why didn’t the police use fake bullets in both cases If the police was trying to restore order in both cases, why not use common sense and use rubber bullets instead?  They have the upper hand and the bullet proof vests (and the dogs), they should act like the adults in the play. 

Miners demonstrating at Marikana
Miners demonstrating at Marikana

The main difference, is that unlike Marikana, where the police was dealing with adults, the police in Soweto dealt with school children. Where is this world going when we now attack, hurt, and kill children? Has the human race descended so low?  And the apartheid government had a clear agenda against color and race, while the current government’s agenda seems to be driven by capitalism.  The children of Soweto were demonstrating for a better education, while the miners of Marikana were workers demonstrating for increased wages…

In the end, Soweto 1976 cannot be compared to Marikana 2012, where the government did not even conduct an investigation, and did not present apologies (or did they?) as they did not consider the lives of these Black children relevant in the apartheid society.  And even today, one can see the difference between both events in the length at which Marikana was covered in the South African press, and the small number of archives (accessible?) on Soweto 1976.  Besides, Soweto 1976 marked a turning point in the end of the apartheid regime.  One thing is for sure, both events should never happen in the history of a nation.

This is my two-cents on this… What do you think were the similarities between Marikana 2012 and Soweto 1976? Were there similarities in your opinion? As people protest around the world, how do you stop police brutality?  How do we ensure that lives are preserved, while populations’ protests are taken into account?

Remembrance: 16 June 1976 Soweto Massacre

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Soweto uprising: children walking peacefully (Source: Ezakwantu.com)

The Soweto massacre or Soweto uprisings also known as June 16, were some of the biggest massacre of the apartheid regime in South Africa, mostly because it showed police repression against kids.  On June 16, 1976, Black high school children in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans medium decree of 1974 which forced the schools to use Afrikaans as one of the main languages in schools (50-50 with English): Afrikaans was to be used to teach mathematics, arithmetic, etc…  In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, many people preferred English as the school language, the commerce language, etc, because of the violence attached with Afrikaans which was the language of the oppressor.

Soweto Uprising (Source:kilimedia.com)
Soweto Uprising: children running away (Source: kilimedia.com)

On June 16, 1976, over 20,000 school children took part in protests which left over 700 dead (the official numbers say 176, but we all know that this number could not be further from the truth).  On that bright morning, 10,000 – 20,000 black students walked from their schools to Orlando stadium for a peaceful rally against the use of Afrikaans, the oppressor’s language, in school.  The protest had been carefully planned by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee, with support from the Black Consciousness Movement, and teachers from Soweto.  The students were marching and they found out that police had barricaded the road along the intended route.  The leader of the SSRC action committee then asked the crowd not to provoke the police, and the march went on on a different route, eventually ending up near Orlando High School.  The students were marching, singing, and waving placards with slogans such as, “Down with Afrikaans“, “Viva Azania“, and “If we must do Afrikaans, Vorster must do Zulu.”

Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)
Hector Pieterson being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister running alongside (Photo by: Sam Nzima)

One officer shot and fired his gun causing panic and chaos.  Students started screaming and running, as more gunshots were being fired, and the police let out their dogs on children who responded by stoning the dogs.  The police then began to shoot directly at the children.  One of the first students to be shot dead was 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who became the symbol of the Soweto uprisings.  The picture of his dead body being carried away by another student while his sister ran beside them in tears, was captured by news photographer Sam Nzima, and made it worldwide.  The police patrolled the streets throughout the night as the students came under intense attack.  Emergency clinics were swamped with injured and bloody children.  The police requested the hospitals to provide a list of all victims with bullet wounds, but the doctors refused to create the list, and recorded bullet wounds as abscesses.  On the 17th of June, 1,500 heavily armed police officers were deployed to Soweto carrying automatic rifles, stun guns, and carbines.  They were driving in armored vehicles with helicopters, while the South African army was ordered on standby… for repression onto school children.

In the end, the Soweto uprising established the leading role of African National Congress (ANC) against the apartheid regime; it marked the turning point in the opposition to white rule in South Africa.  Formerly, the struggle had been fought outside South Africa, in neighboring countries (Rhodesia – Zimbabwe, South-West Africa – Namibia, and Angola), but from that moment forward, the struggle became internal as well as external.

June 16th is now celebrated in South Africa as a public holiday.  Enjoy this quick collage about the events of June 16th, and please remember to commemorate the lives of innocent children killed on this day in South Africa, children whose future were ended too early.  Don’t forget to check out these articles on BBCLibcom.orgSouth Africa Info, and watch the video on Independent Lens on PBS.