Soweto Museum and Afrikaans policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jun 17 15:01:43 UTC 2002

>>From the Philadelphia Enquirer,  Posted on Mon, Jun. 17, 2002

  Museum honors youth slain in apartheid uprising

  By Nicholas Kotch

  SOWETO, South Africa - A museum honoring children slain by apartheid
police in the 1976 Soweto uprising opened its doors yesterday, exactly 26
years after the massacre that changed South African history.  The Hector
Pieterson museum, a soberly stylish building of red brick and glass,
records the revolt by students against plans to teach them in Afrikaans,
the main language of the white minority government.

  The museum is part of an effort by South African historians to revise
the official version of their country's tortured past, specifically for
the 1948-94 period when the apartheid system of racial segregation treated
nonwhites as inferior beings.  "There are going to be many more monuments
and buildings like this one, as we take stock and gradually rewrite our
history,"  Pumla Madiba, chief executive of the South African Heritage
Resources Agency, said at yesterday's opening.

  This year, the privately owned Apartheid Museum was opened in
Johannesburg to broad acclaim. In March, a memorial was inaugurated for
the 69 recorded victims of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of black
protesters.  The Hector Pieterson museum marks the uprising on June 16,
1976, by thousands of black children in Soweto, the township south of
Johannesburg, against the government's insistence that they should be
taught in Afrikaans rather than in English. Police opened fire on the
demonstrators, setting off a wave of national protests that received
worldwide attention and increased black opposition to apartheid.

  The museum cost about $2.4 million to build and to fill with
contemporary photographs, texts and documentary video. Exhibits include
homemade weapons used by the students who took up arms against apartheid
after the 1976 killings by police and soldiers.  "The opening of the...
museum to the public is our acknowledgment of those young lions who stood,
roared and fought for a better South Africa," Environment and Tourism
Minister Valli Moosa said yesterday as the events of 1976 were
commemorated throughout the land, as they are each year.

  The rewriting of history includes the name of the museum, which is in
Orlando West, a suburb of Soweto. Before, the surname of the boy who
became the symbol of the uprising, Hector Pieterson, was spelled
"Peterson."  "We have verified with the family, and it is definitely
Pieterson,"  museum curator Ali Hlongwane said.

  Whether Hector was 13 or 14 when he was struck down by a policeman's
bullet also needs to be cleared up. But there is no ambiguity about the
photograph by Sam Nzima, which went around the world in June 1976 and has
pride of place at the museum.  It shows the small body of Hector, already
dead, in the arms of a strapping young man named Mbuyiswa Makhubu.
Hector's sister runs alongside, gasping in anguish.  Apartheid authorities
covered up the scale of the massacre. They talked of security lapses and
stray bullets.

  Until now, historians believed 600 to 700 young protesters were killed
in the second half of 1976 as students and pupils all over South Africa
followed Soweto's lead.  But Hlongwane said researchers now know that
estimate was much too low.  "At the moment we are working with a 500 to
600 estimate of deaths in Soweto alone," he said.  In the museum's
glass-walled atrium, hundreds of marble bricks, each inscribed with the
name of a victim and a date of death in June 1976, are strewn on a carpet
of gravel.

  As the antigovernment uprising spread, security forces went hunting for
large numbers of young activists who had gone underground. Thousands
escaped abroad, many to camps in southern African states where they joined
the armed wings of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist


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