Tag: Soweto

The Mendi Memorial at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto

Be quiet and calm my countrymen…..

These photographs were taken on 17 December 2010 at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto.

Like so many memorials in South African this one is not too well known and I have been on the hunt for it for many years. I will be honest though, what I found was not what I expected, because it appears as if this memorial has been changed from when it was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 23 March 1995. There is a lot of scattered stonework behind the memorial that I couldn’t quite place, and I suspect there was some sort of flower garden around it.

I will however leave you to your own judgement as to this memorial, which is an important one for those who study military history in South Africa, and for those who seek to keep the memory of this tragic disaster alive, nearly 100 years after it happened.

I have an extensive collection of Mendi information on this webpage and that can be found on my Wreck of the Mendi page

This Mendi Memorial can be found at the Google Earth co-ordinates  26°17’23.34″S, 27°52’10.82″E

Unveiling Plaque

Unveiling Plaque

There are a number of Mendi Memorials in South Africa, and as time has passed the ship and its casualties are becoming more well known. Their sacrifice after all those years is finally being remembered.

© DRW 2010-2018. Created 17/12/2010. Edited 20/02/2012. Moved to blog 25/01/2014

Updated: 05/01/2018 — 20:50

The Hector Pieterson Monument and Museum, Soweto

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.

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 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 

Updated: 05/01/2018 — 20:42

June 16th Student Uprising Memorial

I do not recall 16 June 1976 as well as I should and had no idea of the politics that were happening around me. I do remember that it was a scary and very violent period in our history, and that many people lost their lives in what was the start of the beginning of the end for the Apartheid Government. The images of Hector Pietersen being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, a fellow student, while his sister ran beside them is the iconic photograph from that fateful day in 1976 and it is etched into the psyche of South Africa.

The Memorial may be found inside the left hand gate opposite the office in Avalon Cemetery in Soweto. The gate guards will be able to assist with directions too.

It is not my place to tell that story, I only photograph the memorials and the graves. I expect that the viewpoint of events differs depending on which side if the fence you were on. Yet, I cannot help but wonder what this spot where I was standing was like on those fateful and bloody days so many years ago. A good explanation of the events of that fateful day may be found at South Africa.info(Site no long seems to be active)

Avalon Cemetery (1498×601)

And of course a good starting point to unravelling this horrific period of history in South Africa is the Hector Pieterson Monument and Museum in Soweto.
The Poem “Young People” by Mzwakhe Mbuli (aka “the People’s Poet”) is inscribed on this memorial. 
The Memorial may be found on Google Earth co-ordinates: -26.288800°   27.873989°
The grave of Hector Pietersen (also spelt Pieterson, Peterson) is also in Avalon Cemetery, but finding it is not too easy unless you know where to look. It is better to ask at the office for directions to the grave.

Avalon Cemetery (1586×534)

DRW © 2010-2019. Created 17/12/2010, Updated 16/06/2011. Moved to blog 31/12/2013
Updated: 23/07/2019 — 17:33
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