“He was the chubby student leader at the head of a protest march that changed the course of our history, but nothing except a famous photograph links him to the past.” –Don Makatile, DRUM
For many, myself included, the Soweto Uprising of ’76 and the name Hector Pieterson conjure images in our minds of the iconic photograph that captured Pieterson’s limp body being carried away by Mbuyisa Makhubo as his sister, Antoinette, ran after. Though some of us may not have experienced the strikes firsthand, this photograph is graphic and raw enough to allow us to hear the screams and sobs of Antoinette, feel the burn of tear-gas in our eyes, and see the brutish officers swatting away children as though they are flies. Thus, memories of this event have been created in our minds from the mere existence of a photograph that was published around the world 36 years ago.
Oddly enough, though, the photograph I was mostly drawn to at the Hector Pieterson Museum was not this one, but rather one of a group of young protesters. As is mentioned in the DRUM article, there is nothing that links the boy leading these protesters to the past except for this famous photograph, captured by photo-journalist, Peter Magubane. In the same article, Magubane goes on to explain the importance of documenting moments through photography, journalism, art, or video : to remember things that never happened to us in the first place.
A moment frozen in history. A tableau of our turbulent past.
“My God, my God — ‘ I said to myself, ‘It’s the Children’s Crusade.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five