The Hector Pieterson advert: “Live the dream the youth of ’76”
Sam Nzima’s 1976 photo of a young school woman running alongside a young man carrying a fatally injured Hector Pieterson (1963 – 16 June 1976) in his arms fleeing from the police has become an iconic image of the brutalities of the Apartheid regime. The image has come to symbolize and immortalize the student protests and resistance to the injustices of structural racial discrimination. This image has arguably become an emblem of the memory of the 1976 Soweto riots in particular and indiscriminate apartheid violence in general. These student protests are commemorated annually through the National Youth Day on June 16th. In 2015, a music video channel popular with the youth Channel O placed a full page recreation advert of the iconic image designed by Don Dlanga to mark National Youth Day Commemorations. Don Dlanga’s evokes the original to recreate a contemporary non-verbal and embodied transformative encounter with the past. Thirteen-year old Hector Pieterson’s slain body is removed. It is replaced by a graduation gown and folded certificate. The pain, fear and anguish on the faces of the young woman and man carrying him is replaced with triumphant smiles. The run from the police in the original is re-staged as a celebratory jog in the street. The reworked image was dubbed “Live the dream the youth of ’76”.
In this account, I investigate the debates, controversy and contestations that marked the aftermath of this reworking to investigate the memory of the dead, the disappeared and survivors. I will also draw on the impromptu communal re-staging of the fateful events of 1976, that marked the official unveiling of the Hector Pieterson memorial in Soweto by President Thabo Mbeki in 2002. I position these scenarios as performance practices that create contemporary non-verbal and embodied transformative encounters. I draw on these two scenarios to grapple with the memory and commemoration of apartheid. I will argue that in the image of the flight scene, Hector Pieterson is framed as martyr, and through his death, a surrogate of the many other dead. Such a framing, leads to the re-moving of the other subject positions in the image. I will draw particular attention to the ‘disappeared’ who are also visible in the same photograph. Namely, the young man, Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying Hector Pieterson in the photograph was later abducted and harassed together with his sister Antoinette Sithole by suspected government operatives.
Pedzisai Maedza is a Canon Collins Scholars’ Scholar at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and a DAAD Doctoral Fellow at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Germany. He is currently writing a thesis on performances of collective remembering of unacknowledged genocides in Namibia and Zimbabwe. Maedza holds an M.A. Drama (UCT) and a B.A. Honours in Theatre Arts (UZ), both awarded with distinction. His work has been awarded the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) New Scholars Award 2014 as well as the African Studies Centre – University of Leiden, Netherlands’ Africa Thesis Award for 2014. This paper was made possible by support from the Social Science Research Council’s Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Fellowship, with funds provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York.