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Inside Africa: Soweto Uprising Remembered

Images of the Soweto Uprisings

By Charlayne Hunter-Gault
CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief

SOWETO, South Africa (CNN) -- It was a picture that got the world's attention: A frozen moment in time that showed 13-year-old Hector Peterson dying after being struck down by a policeman's bullet.

At his side was his 17-year-old sister.

"I saw that he was bad, but I thought that he was just wounded, you know,š remembers Hector‚s sister Antoinette Sithole, „∑ because I couldn't figure out where. „

In recent years, June 16th has been called Youth Day, but for many years it was known simply as the day of the Soweto Uprisings - a chain of events that signaled the beginning of the end of apartheid.

Hector Peterson was among some 30,000 students who took to the streets of Soweto protesting a government edict that all classes were to be taught in Afrikaans - the language of the white minority.

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őA struggle without documentation is no struggle‚

"I came to this spot here," recalled Peter Magubane, a young photographer who lived in Soweto at the time. "I saw huge numbers of schoolchildren coming towards me. I got out of the car and started taking pictures. And I could see hands that (were gesturing) no pictures.

"I went over and said to them, 'Why do you say I can't take pictures?' They said, 'Because the police might be able to identify some of us.' And I said to them, 'a struggle without documentation is no struggle," Magubane said.

"Soweto was on fire," he said. "The children were angry. Ten-year-olds were in the streets picking up stones and throwing. Where there was anything burning, you would find these 10-year-olds, 9-year-olds, saying őPower, Power!‚ You realized that the political mood had changed."

Photographer Peter Magubane visits the spot where the uprising first took place  

By day's end, officially, there were 23 dead. Locals say it was more like 200. Hundreds were injured as the protest spread throughout the country, eventually ending the attempt to impose Afrikaans on black school children and opening a wider door to ending apartheid.

"The shot made me angry," Sithole said. "But you know, one day, when I was sitting, I said, őNo.‚ Sometimes to achieve some goals, some of the people will die or get hurt. It's like soldiers when they go to war. They won‚t all come back."

But they leave a legacy -- not least, Hector Peterson.

A Hector Peterson memorial

Today, Soweto student Mamsie Tsosane says, "I think he was a hero. As young as he was, he was also in a struggle, fighting for his rights ∑ and all those students, as well, for the whole of South Africa and black people as well.š

The Hector Peterson Memorial  

But Sithole says there are far too many of the younger generation who don't know about the day her brother died or what he died for.

The Hector Peterson Memorial is being built to change all that. It will stand on the site where the apartheid police amassed to attack the students, within a stone‚s throw of where they shot and killed Hector Peterson. It will house the history.

Those who will work here, like Antoinette Sithole, hope that people will come not only from Soweto and South Africa, but that it will beckon people from all over the world to learn about what Hector Peterson and countless others sacrificed.

• Soweto, South Africa

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