The Hector Zolile Pieterson (also spelt Petersen or Pietersen) Museum, was opened on 16 June 2002 near the place where he was shot in Orlando West, Soweto. The museum is funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the Johannesburg City Council and it has become a major attraction for anybody visiting Soweto.
The whole tragedy started when WC Ackerman, Southern Transvaal Regional Director of Education which stated that in Std 5 and forms 1 and 2; General Science and Practical subjects should be taught in English but Mathematics /Arithmetic and Social Studies should be taught in Afrikaans. From then onwards a number of schools were hit by unrest and the path had been laid down that would culminate in the the protest march against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction took place in Soweto. (Information booklet by the Hector Pieterson Museum)
Invariably students and police clashed and the Soweto Uprising followed.
The first schoolboy killed by the police was Hastings Ndlovu (1961-16/06/1976).
Unfortunately, the day I was there an election rally was in progress, and the museum was closed. But I managed to get back there on 28 April and take a look around. Its difficult to get any sense of the happening of 16 June 1976 because so many changes have been made in the area.
The Museum Precinct has an aura about it that is difficult to describe, at times I felt that maybe this was not the place to be. And it was not because of the people around me, but because I have no real comprehension of the events that led to this moment in history, and after all I was on the wrong side.
The most jarring note in the Museum is the courtyard with the plaques strewn about it. Those were real people once, and some of them do not even have names.
How many were bystanders who were caught up in the events? Were there even bystanders?
The iconic photograph that symbolises the 16 June uprising is by Sam Nzima, photographer The World newspaper in Johannesburg. It shows the dying Hector carried by a fellow student, Hector’s sister is running alongside. The line of grass connects the entrance of the museum where Hector Pieterson was shot.
The plaque for Hector. Pieterson (also spelt Petersen or Pietersen). Cut off in life.
Hector Pieterson is buried in Avalon Cemetery and I am happy to say that I found his grave, but I was unable to find the grave of Hastings Ndlovu who supposedly was the first one killed on that fateful day. It was a strange moment to stand in front of that grave and a profound sadness overcame me. I was not able to say what I wanted to because I did not know what to say.
This lonely grave was of one of the people who changed South Africa, and he was probably unaware of what was to happen after this event. It was the first step in a long staircase punctuated by violence, death and destruction, culminating in the 1994 elections. What would Hector Pieterson say about the mess that the education system is now? I do not have an answer.
The grave of Hector Pieterson
The museum may be found at the intersection of Pela Main Road and Kumalo Main Road. Or Google Earth co-ordinates S 26°14’4.96″, E 27°54’30.10″. Do check the opening times and prices for entry into the museum.
© DRW 2011-2018. Created 26/042011. Updated 28/04/2011. Moved to blog 21/01/2014. Added information 30/03/2017