Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Today, as South Africa remembers its troubled past
- June the 16th is a day we should all know

Today is Youth Day in South Africa, an occasion to mark one of the country’s darkest and most historic episodes. As South Africa hosts thousands of visitors from across the world, will South Africa’s progression and rich heritage be one of the big winners at this year’s World Cup?

Youth Day mark’s the death of school boy Hector Pieterson who was shot by police 1976 during the Student Uprising in the heart of Soweto, where high-school children protested against the mandatory learning of Afrikaans and for improved education standards. Tragically, the authorities unleashed a vicious and sustained attack on the students, using tear gas and live rounds.

The Hector Pieterson museum which opened in Soweto back in 2002 – just two blocks away from the spot where Hector was killed – commemorates the *566 young lives that were lost between 16 June and 12 December in 1976.

With its simple layout, the museum provides snapshots into the struggle of the students and captures the brutality of their treatment, using a mix of photography, video and artefacts.

Many people are distantly aware of South Africa’s history and struggle with apartheid, but few could have a true sense of the extent to which apartheid inflicted suffering and devastation on the youth of South Africa without visiting Soweto’s Hector Pieterson museum.

This iconic image, taken by famous news photographer Sam Nzima shows a dying Hector Pieterson being carried by a fellow student.

I took this at the museum, a touching tribute - each tablet represents each of the 500+ children killed between June 16th and December 12th 1976.

Football fans visiting the museum, many of whom had never heard of Hector Pieterson, described it as a sobering and moving experience. USA soccer fan, Allison from Chicago, said: “I can honestly say this day [visiting the museum] was one of the most memorable, moving and thought provoking days of my life. I learned so much and gained so much perspective on the cultural, social and racial influences on South African history. On returning to the US, I won’t hesitate to tell my friends and family the story of Hector Pieterson and the things I’ve learned from visiting Soweto and this impressive museum.”

Craig Geswindt, CEO of tour operator Jozibear Tours has taken bookings from Football fans from South America, China and Holland and said that all of their customers have been pleasantly surprised by the culture and history in Soweto.

If you are fortunate enough to be in South Africa at this time, I sincerely urge you to travel beyond the comfort of your hotel rooms and the false sense of security you find in the familiarity of wealthy areas like Sandton and visit places like the Hector Pieterson museum in Soweto and discover a chapter in South African history rarely discussed in the international media; a chapter that will move, educate and inspire you.

Happy Youth Day!

*This is a rough figure

- Mr Devo

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