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article imageThe picture of a tragic event that changed South Africa’s history

By Igor I. Solar     Jun 16, 2013 in World
Johannesburg - Thirty-seven years ago today, a photojournalist captured the image of a boy killed by police during the high school student’s protests known as the “Soweto Uprising”; the image became a symbol of the struggle for equal rights of black South Africans
Soweto under the apartheid regime
In 1976, Soweto ("South Western Township"), a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, had about 1.2 million people. The predominantly black population had been forcefully removed from legally designated white areas, and were living under the oppressive regime of apartheid developed after World War II by the white political minority led by the National Party of South Africa and the Afrikaner Brotherhood.
Among the wide array of prejudiced legislation developed by the ruling authorities, there was an educational system that included a curriculum restricted to the most basic instruction, excluding all subjects that the “sub-human kaffirs” did not need to learn to perform “their role of servants”.
In 1974, a new rule (“The Afrikaans Medium Decree”) was imposed: the vernacular languages of the students (i.e. isiZulu, IsiXhosa, seSotho) were to be replaced by Afrikaans and English, except on the subjects of Religion Instruction, Music and Physical Culture.
As expressed by Punt Janson, the South African Deputy Minister of Education at the time, the rationale behind the decree was: "A Black man may be trained to work on a farm or in a factory. He may work for an employer who is either English-speaking or Afrikaans-speaking and the man who has to give him instructions may be either English-speaking or Afrikaans-speaking."
The students’ protests
In the spring of 1976, the Decree was to be implemented at the Secondary School level. The change was sternly resented and opposed by student and teacher’s organizations. On June 16, over 10,000 students from about 300 schools spread over the township marched towards the Orlando East Stadium to express their grievances and feelings about what they called “the unfair imposition of the language of the oppressor”.
Records of the event indicate the atmosphere was calm and even festive. As the students gathered, they chanted and danced in the traditional Toyi-toyi fashion consisting in stomping their feet and chanting songs and slogans. Suddenly, hundreds of policemen arrived on the scene carrying rifles, machine guns and tear-gas canisters. The students chanted “Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso!”([Xhosa] “Lord, bless our nation!” a verse of the anthem "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ("Lord Bless Africa").
The answer of the troops, consisting in random gunfire and teargas canisters, caused panic among the students who replied with louder chants and copious stone-throwing. Several students fell in the initial attack and many more, reportedly as many as 700 people, died in the tragic events (the government’s official figure informed about 23 students dead).
One of the first among the dead children was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson, who was hit in the head by a bullet. Another student lifted his body and carried him in search of help, while Hector’s sister, grief-stricken Antoinette wearing her school uniform, run next to them. The scene was recorded by Masana Sam Nzima, a photojournalist working for “The World”, a black African daily newspaper. "I saw a child fall down. Under a shower of bullets I rushed forward and went for the picture. It had been a peaceful march, the children were told to disperse; they started singing Nkosi Sikelele. The police were ordered to shoot." related Sam Nzima referring to the fateful moment he took the picture.
Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying 12-year-old Hector Pieterson  moments after he was shot by South African po...
Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying 12-year-old Hector Pieterson moments after he was shot by South African police during a peaceful student demonstration in Soweto, South Africa. Hector's sister, Antoinette Sithole, runs alongside. (Use of this image in an article on the image qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law).
Sam Nzima
Impact of Sam Nzima’s picture
Nzima’s black and white image was published June 17 in “The World”, and the following day in British newspapers. It shocked the conscience of people worldwide and became a symbol of Black South Africans’ crusade for freedom and equality, and the brutal repression of the South African police and the apartheid regime on the defenseless Soweto students.
Masana Sam Nzima  a photojournalist working for the S. African daily newspaper “The World” took ...
Masana Sam Nzima, a photojournalist working for the S. African daily newspaper “The World” took the historic picture of 12-year-old Hector Pieterson on the arms of a fellow Soweto student.
SAHO
The picture was censored by the authorities; soon after “The World” newspaper was shut down and Nzima was persecuted and harassed by security police forcing him to go into hiding. The Pieterson image was his last photographic work.
Nzima’s picture became an iconic image representing the long-term struggle of a nation fighting for some of the most basic of all civil rights: the right to freedom and equality and the preservation of native customs and language. The bullet that hit Hector Pieterson on June 16, 1976, ended his brief life, but at the end resulted in black South Africans’ achievement of the principle of “one man, one vote” and the election in 1994 of a black man, Xhosa-born Nelson Mandela, as president of South Africa.
Since 1991, June 16 is celebrated as “The Day of the African Child” (DAC). It honors the memory of Hector Pieterson and the students who participated in the Soweto uprising on that day in 1976. DAC also focuses on the on-going need for improvement of African children’s education, the rights of children on the continent, and the efforts of those committed to end the obstacles for fulfilling these rights.
June 16 is celebrated as “The Day of the African Child” (DAC) honoring the memory of Hector Piet...
June 16 is celebrated as “The Day of the African Child” (DAC) honoring the memory of Hector Pieterson and the students who participated in the Soweto uprising on June 16, 1976. (Screen capture from Dayofafricanchild.org)
DAC
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Kim Phuc: ‘The girl in the picture’ forty years later
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