An interview with Dorothy Molefi: Hector was ‘always smiling’

Dorothy Molefi is a mother who lost her child to violence. But what makes her story unique is that her child became an international icon of South Africa's struggle for freedom. Her child was Hector Pieterson.

As a 12-year-old victim of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Hector Pieterson was immortalised by journalist Sam Nzima's famous picture of Hector being carried by another student.

This image is as resonant today as it was 30 years ago, yet it is Hector's mother, Dorothy, who remembers Hector the person, and not simply a symbol. She told us her story of June 16th 1976.

Q: Before June 16th you dreamt that something was going to happen. What did you dream?

A: Well, I used to work in butchery. And you know how you get the meat all nicely wrapped from the butcher?

Q: Yes?

A: Well, I dreamt that they didn't wrap the meat properly. They just wrapped it in newspaper. And then I knew that something was going to happen.

Q: What do you remember about June 16th?

A: We didn't know about the march and before sunset my brother came to find me, but I wasn't there so he left a message with neighbours. He said I must go to his place, so I went there. When I got there I saw women sitting in the house and... there was a newspaper on the table.

Q: Did you know that Hector had died?

A: No, we did not know that Hector had died. I just thought he was hurt.

Q: When did you find out?

A: Only the next day. The police told everyone who couldn't find a loved one to go to the nearest police station. So I went to Meadowlands police station. It was still noisy at that time and everything was just... not right. On the Monday it was quieter and that was when everybody went to the mortuary.

Q: Did you go to the mortuary?

A: Yes, I went to the mortuary... That was where I found him.

Q: Did you know other mothers who lost children at that time?

A: No... unfortunately we didn't know each other.

Q: As a mother, what was the most difficult part for you?

A: Well, what happened during that time is that I didn't want to be... well, you know when somebody dies and people are crying and miserable?

Q: Yes?

A: I didn't want to do that because everybody was anxious for their children... their sons and daughters. I just told myself, "I must become strong so that I can arrange everything for the funeral." And I was. I was very strong.

Q: What was Hector like as a boy?

A: Oh, Hector was very jolly and teasing... always smiling. I have four daughters now, but Hector was my only son.

Q: Do you have any grandchildren?

A: Oh yes! Five boys and five girls.

Q: And thirty years later, with all the changes that have taken place in our country, how do you feel looking back?

A: Well, now you can get a house. And children are learning more at lots of different schools, which is not like before.

Q: Do you think children have more opportunities now?

A: Oh yes, definitely.

Q: Hector would have been 42 this year. Is that something you think about?

A: Yes, but not a lot. It was meant to be... it happened.

Q: Do you still feel angry at all?

A: No, no, I'm not angry, because today at the schools they teach it as part of history... And they remember Hector.


References:
• Hector was 'always smiling', website: women24.com