He was killed at the age of 13 when the police opened fire on protesting students. For years, 16 June stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Today, it is designated National Youth Day — when South Africa honours young people and brings attention to their needs.
On 16 June 1976, school children protested the implementation of Afrikaans and English as dual medium of instruction in secondary schools on a 50-50 basis. This was implemented throughout South Africa regardless of the locally-spoken language and some exams were also to be written in Afrikaans. Students gathered to peacefully demonstrate, but the crowd soon became aggressive when the police arrived. A crowd of approximately 10,000 started rioting, killing two West Rand Administrative Board members, and burning a number of dogs, vehicles and buildings associated with the police and the Transvaal Education Department.
A group of approximately 30 students gathered outside the Phefeni School singing a traditional Sotho anthem. When the police arrived the crowd became violent and began to throw rocks. The police in turn fired tear gas into the crowd in order to disperse the crowd. There are conflicting accounts of who gave the first command to shoot, but soon children were running in all directions, leaving some children lying dead or wounded on the road.
Although the media often named Hector as the first child to die that fateful day, another boy, Hastings Ndlovu, was actually the first child to be shot. In the case of Hastings, there were no photographers on the scene, and his name was not immediately known. Both Hector and Hastings are buried in Soweto’s cemetery.
Hector's sister Antoinette, who is seen in the famous photograph, worked at the museum as a tour guide for some time.
The Memorial and Museum
Outside the relatively small museum is the memorial to Hector Pieterson, showing a blow-up of the famous photograph by Sam Nzima that gave the resistance struggle ample impetus. The 1976 Soweto riots are often considered the “turning point” in grand apartheid, focusing the world’s attention on the country’s racist policies that needed to be addressed.
Location & Access
The memorial & museum is just up the road and around the corner from Vilikasi Street and can be accessed on foot via a short walk or by vehicle. The memorial stands in the open air & can be viewed at any time.
For More Informationn
Please go to:
- Address: 8287 Khumalo Rd, Orlando West, Johannesburg, 1804
- Phone: 011 536 0611
- General admission: Free