After WW2, the radical National Party came into power in South Africa. They decided to implement apartheid, segregating blacks from whites for decades, up until the 1990s, when it ended.

In 1976, the South African government introduced (forced) the derivative Dutch language of Afrikaans into schools. Lessons would now be taught in a 50/50 split between standard English and Afrikaans. In June of 1976, thousands of students marched in protest of the new language, calling it the ‘language of the oppressor’ and straight up refusing to conform to it.

The protest began peacefully, with students of all ages and from a number of townships all united under one cause.

It started in Soweto.

The first casualty was Hector Pieterson.


This abhorrent image was brought to global attention, and has been the poster image for the events.

Police opened fire on the crowds of 13-18-year-olds, and killed up to 600 people in the three days of riots that proceeded. The official statement was that fewer than 200 people had been killed by police, and that the protesters had begun throwing stones first. However, many who were involved in the riots claimed they were fired upon with tear gas first, without warning, then shot at.

Hector was carried by 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubo, followed by Hector’s sister, Antoinette.

He was carried to reporter Sophie Tema’s car, but Hector died of his wounds before they reached the nearest clinic.

The global reaction was insane.

The world condemned the South African government fully. They had already been banned from the Olympic games in the 60s, but this was when many countries openly denounced the minority government.

The next few decades happened fast.

Black resistance began to grow as the Soweto riots had given them the push they needed to finally push back against the National Party. It would be a further 14 years until Mandela was released from prison, and until the African National Congress would be re-institutionalised.

But the Soweto uprising was a mark for black culture in South Africa. It proved that together they were strong. It all started with students; with kids sick of an oppressive regime, who stood up for what they thought was right.

Many students were killed in the protests. But the impact people like Hector have had on the way we look at the world today has been monumental. South Africa escaped from that period of injustice and apartheid.

Hector’s photo is displayed at the Soweto Memorial (header image) and is a reminder of the hardships many young black students went through less than 50 years ago.