On 16 June 1976, Soweto students, stirred by the speeches of black nationalist leaders such as Steve Biko, boycotted school and took to the streets. They were marching in protest at being forced to learn in Afrikaans, a language they associated with oppression. The movement swelled and as they ran and sang and chanted about freedom, nervous police with dogs and guns, teargas and tanks over-reacted massively and began to shoot into the crowd.
Thirteen-year-old Hector Pieterson wasn’t the first to die. They think that that was a boy called Hastings Ndlovu, but no one is really terribly sure. However photographer Samuel Nzima, happened to be standing by as Hector was deliberately shot down. The photo of his anguished sister, Antoinette Sithole, and 18-year old schoolboy, Mbuyisa Makhubo, carrying the dead boy in his arms flashed around the world. Hector became a symbol of the Soweto Uprisings, a monument to the estimated 200 children who died that day, and of the whole apartheid struggle.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto represents that whole generation of children, the crenellations around it marking the dead and the disappeared.
Beside the memorial is a powerful museum of the Soweto Uprisings, told in a somber, balanced fashion, using eyewitness accounts, news footage and photographs to tell the story. The Death Register Room records the names of the children who died between June 1976 and the end of 1977 as thousand and thousands more joined the protests. Many of the tour guides were amongst the teenagers who took to the streets and give powerful first hand testimony as they show you around. It
The museum is an extraordinary and profoundly moving memorial to a brave generation. It was also the first museum to open in Soweto, on the streets where it all began. 16 June is now celebrated as Youth Day in South Africa.
Address: 82-87 Khumalo Street, Orlando West, Soweto 1804
Tel: +27 (0) 11 536 0611
Getting there: Taxi or train to Phefeni Station. Realistically most people visit as part of a Soweto tour.
Opening hours: Daily 10am-5pm (until 4.30pm Sun)