Hector Pieterson

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Student Activist, one of the first students to be killed in the 1976 student rebellion in Soweto, Johannesburg

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Date of death: 
16 June 1976
Location of death: 
Soweto, Johannesburg

Hector Pieterson was born in 1963. He became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising in apartheid South Africa when a newspaper photograph by Sam Nzima - of the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student - was published around the world.

Hector was one of the first casualties of the 1976 uprising against the sole use of the Afrikaans language in schools. He was 12 at the time of his death. A postmortem revealed that Pieterson was killed by a shot fired directly at him and not by a bullet 'ricocheting off the ground' as police claimed.

Another boy, Hastings Ndlovu, is believed to have been the first child to be shot by police on that fateful day. Approximately 566 schoolchildren were killed during the protests. June 16 has been observed as a public holiday in South Africa called ‘youth day’ since 1994.

Earlier in the 1990’s a memorial to Hector Pieterson was erected in Orlando, Soweto, two blocks from where Hector was shot and fell.Later, in 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum opened behind the memorial site. Sam Nzima’s photograph of Hector is displayed at the memorial in Soweto.

"I saw a child fall down. Under a shower of bullets I rushed forward and went for the picture. It had been a peaceful march, the children were told to disperse, they started singing Nkosi Sikelele. The police were ordered to shoot." – Sam Nzima

*Note: Some sources spell Pieterson as ‘Peterson’.

• soweto.co.za,"Hector Pieterson",From: soweto.co.za,Available at: www.soweto.co.za,[Accessed on: 08 April 2014]
• SouthAfrica.info,"The day Hector Pieterson died",From: SouthAfrica.info,Available at: www.southafrica.info,[Accessed on: 08 April 2014]
• wikipedia,"Hector Pieterson Museum",From: wikipedia,Available at: en.wikipedia.org,[Accessed on: 08 April 2014

Last updated : 11-Jun-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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