The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, situated in Orlando West, Soweto, commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid and in particular the role played by the school children who took part in the Soweto protests of 1976, many of whom were shot by the apartheid police while protesting against the sub-standard of education in black schools in South Africa.
On 16 June 1976, Soweto high school students took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools. The students planned to meet at Orlando Stadium before marching to the regional offices of the Department of Bantu Education, where they intended to raise their grievances with the authorities.
They carried placards that read, “Away with Afrikaans”, “Amandla awethu” (“Power to the people”) and “Free Azania” (“Free South Africa”), and sang the hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), now the basis for the national anthem of democratic South Africa.
On the way to the stadium, they were met by police, who ordered them to end the march and disperse. A violent confrontation ensued in which students threw stones and police fired shots. News of the events in Soweto soon spread, igniting uprisings around the country in which hundreds of people died. One of the first to be killed by the police was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. Newspaper photographer Sam Nzima was in Soweto on June 16 covering the protests and the riots which followed. His iconic image of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, is a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime and become an iconic image around the world of the senseless cruelty and brutality of the apartheid state.
In the early 1990s, the Hector Pieterson Memorial was erected on Khumalo Street in Soweto, not far from where Pieterson was shot, commemorating all those who died or were injured that day and June 16 became the National Youth Day public holiday. On June 16 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum opened next to the memorial. Dedicated to preserving the memory of the 1976 uprising and the events surrounding it, the museum contains a moving collection of oral testimonies, pictures, audiovisual displays and historical documents relating to the events of 1976. The exhibits also provide background to the reasons for the protests while illustrating what happened in their aftermath. Together with the memorial, the museum commemorates those who died in the uprisings, and celebrates the students’ role in the struggle for freedom.
Museum entrance R30, pensioners and students R10, Children (6-12) R5.