Learning About Hector Pieterson in Soweto

The more I travel, the more I learn I don’t know shit. You can put that on your inspiration photo, post it on your Instagram and show your friends how blessed and inspired you are about knowing nothing.

I say this because while I biked through Soweto, I was lead to the Hector Pieterson Museum. The guide explained his significance and the story about the photo. “As we all know in this iconic photo taken after he was killed…,” he said while I nodded my head. Only problem, I never heard of him or have seen the photo by Sam Nzima.

To boil down the complex story of Hector, he was a 13-year South African schoolboy who was murdered by police during peaceful student protests on June 16, 1976 that started the Soweto Uprising. It is believed that he could have been the first person killed that day. Over 175 ended up dying during the uprising. Apartheid, yes I know about that. The Uprising, not so much.

In the photo, he is carried by his sister Antoinette and schoolmate Mbuyisa Makhubo. The photo circulated around the world, causing anger, on both sides of the issues. “How could this happen?” vs. “This is what happens when (fill in racist idea)…” Nzima had to go into hiding after publishing the photo.

At the site of the uprising stands Hector’s memorial and the museum. Antoinette became a tour guide and curator of the museum.

“When the shooting began, I went into hiding. When the shooting stopped, I came out of hiding when others came out. I saw [my brother] Hector [Pieterson] across the street, and I called him and waved at him. He came over and I spoke to him, but more shots rang out and I went into hiding again. I thought he followed me, but he did not come. I came out again and waited at the spot where I just saw him. He did not come. When Mbuyiso came past me a group of children were gathering nearby. He walked towards the group and picked up a body … And then I saw Hector’s shoes.”

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