Pieterson, age 13, was one the first students to be killed during
the 1976 Student Uprising in Soweto. He has since become a symbol
of youth resistance to apartheid. This uprising started on 16 June
as a peaceful protest march organized by school students in Soweto.
One of the main grievances was the introduction of Afrikaans, regarded
as the language of the oppressor, as a medium of instruction in
all African schools.
young people were inspired by the ideas of Steve Biko and the Black
Consciousness Movement, giving them the necessary impetus to resist
the Bantu Education system, introduced by the apartheid government
in the 1950s. This system, dubbed ‘gutter education’,
was designed to train African people to accept a subservient role
in apartheid society.
Hundreds of students joined the protest march
planned by the South African Student Movement (SASM), to the Orlando
Stadium East where they intended to meet with the authorities to
voice their grievances. They carried placards with slogans – ‘Away
with Afrikaans’, ‘Amandla Awehtu’ (Power to the
People), ‘Free Azania’ (Free South Africa) and sang ‘Nkosi
Sikelel’ iAfrika’ (God bless Africa), now the national
anthem of South Africa.
In Orlando West, police confronted the marchers
and ordered them to disperse. Despite the peaceful nature of the
march, the confrontation turned violent and was here that a number
of students, including Hector Pieterson, were shot and killed.
What was a student march, quickly erupted into an uprising, which
spread to many other parts of the country. The photograph by Sam
Nzima of a young man, Mbuyiswa, carrying the critically injured
Hector Pieterson in his arms, captured the attention of people
throughout the world and highlighted the injustices of apartheid.
After the 1976 Uprising a heightened political
awareness saw the emergence of new leaders such as Cyril Ramaphosa,
Murphy Morobe, Popo Molefe, Tsietsi Mashinini, Seth Mazibuko and
Khotso Seatlholo. Local civic organizations strengthened and scores
of young men and women crossed the country’s borders to join
the military wings of the African National Congress (ANC) and the
Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Many were imprisoned on Robben Island
(off the coast near Cape Town) where the younger generation learned
much from the older ANC and PAC comrades already there and as a
result Robben Island became known as the ‘Robben Island University’.
The 1976 Student Uprising changed the course of
South African history and accelerated demands such as those for
the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of political
organizations and the formation of a new democratic South Africa.
After the first democratic election in 1994, 16 June was declared ‘Youth
Day’ to commemorate the contribution made by South Africa’s
youth to the struggle against apartheid.
A memorial to hector Pieterson was erected in
the early 1990s and is situated in Khumalo Street, a few hundred
meters from where he was shot. A new museum opened in 2002 and
houses photographic and audio-visual displays of the struggle of
the youth against the injustices of apartheid.