Driving and walking through the streets of Soweto our bus drivers, and Soweto residents, KB and TK taught us about the past and present of the city. Absorbing the culture of the area and shocked by the large population (7 million) and sheer poverty and contradictions of wealth surrounding us, our group traveled in discussion. However, when rounding a corner in the Orlando West Township KB said, “This is the corner where the students were met by the police forces in 1976.” A silence fell over our group as we imagined what took place there years ago. We then ventured to the Hector Pieterson Museum located just beyond the corner. On the corner where the Soweto Uprisings began on June 16, 1976 is a memorial to the many students who lost their lives during the protests. A simple stone memorial commemorates the Soweto Uprisings, and reads, “To honour the youth who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy.” Walking through the museum there was a change of mood amongst the group. For the first time, there was complete silence. We all walked through the museum fully engaged in the information surrounding us. The museum was simple, informative, and powerful. Multiple mediums were used to tell the story of the Soweto Uprisings from the beginning of apartheid through the many riots and formation of various political groups. The exhibit included video footage of the police confronting students in the streets, various perspectives of the events of June 16, 1976, photographs, and significant objects. At the conclusion of the exhibit is an open courtyard serving as a memorial to the many youth who lost their lives during the Soweto Uprisings. The students are commemorated with bricks scattered throughout gravel in a two level courtyard. On each brick is the name of the individual along with the day on which they died.
August 29, 1974 the Southern Transvaal Regional Director of Education, Mr. W.C. Ackerman, issued an order that required certain subjects to be taught in Afrikaans, while others remained being taught in English. This caused and uproar throughout the education system, students and teachers alike. Following the installation of the language requirements numerous school administrators were dismissed and students began to speak out against the order. After varying groups attempted to confront the language in education issue, students at Orlando West Junior Secondary School went on strike on May 17, 1976. The students went on strike in protest of the forced use of Afrikaans. This strike sparked many surrounding schools to follow their lead and too go on strike in protest of Afrikaans. On June 13, 1976 a meeting of representatives from the Soweto schools was held in Orlando East. At the meeting it was decided that there would be a protest held on June 16th against the use of Afrikaans. After much planning on June 16, 1976, students marched in Soweto in protest of the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. The students were met on the street by police and violence erupted. The first student to be killed was Hector Pieterson. Jun 16, 1976 marked the beginning of the Soweto Uprisings. For the rest of June, riots and protests broke out throughout South Africa is sympathy and support of the events that took place in Soweto on June 16, 1976.
The Hector Pieterson museum was truly moving. Prior to visiting the museum I had a general understanding of the events that took place in Soweto and as a result of the march on June 16, 1976, however I never truly understood the magnitude of the events. Additionally, it was incredible to think that the students involved in the marches and protests were our age and some even younger. The courage and determination the students had continues to amaze me. While I hope that I would stand up for my beliefs in all situations, I cannot imagine the reality of dying for them. The way in which is museum was laid out is excellent in my opinion. The exhibit walks you through what let up to June 16, 1976, as well as, what happened following. One of the walls provides a look into June 16, 1976 from the view point of a student, parent, and an official. This was intriguing to me because all of the perspectives were vastly different and informative in their own manner. After leaving the Hector Pieterson Museum we drove back through the streets of the Orlando West Township and it was difficult to picture the students walking through the streets and meeting the brutality of the police, but was all in all, a different Orlando West than I saw looking out the bus window before visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum.