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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Soweto mothers march to remember
By Justin Pearce
BBC News, Soweto

Dorothy Molefi lays a wreath at the memorial to her son, Hector Peterson
Dorothy Molefi is proud of her son's role in the struggle against apartheid
"Hector would be 42 now - he died for the nation, and today he is part of history."

Dorothy Molefi lost her son 30 years ago. He was Hector Peterson, shot by a police bullet on 16 June 1976, becoming the first victim of the student uprising against apartheid.

On Friday morning, Mrs Molefi joined President Thabo Mbeki and other officials in laying wreaths at the monument in Orlando West, Soweto, to her son and others who died in the uprising.

"I'm so glad about what's happening today, 30 years later," she told the BBC News website.

She reflected on the changes that have come about since the start of democracy in South Africa: "Single mothers are given houses - our children are mixed with whites in the schools."


For the younger people who gathered around the monument, part of the excitement of the moment was having a public holiday - Youth Day, as 16 June now is - all of their own.

Nonkululeku Mnikati, 23, said she was there "to celebrate freedom - to celebrate being recognised as the youth of South Africa."

I never got to the end of the march the first time around - This time I want to finish
Soweto marcher
On the generation of 1976 she said: "We look up to them, what they did was great. But sometimes it's like looking at a movie, it's hard to believe what happened was real.

"So it's good to see Hector Peterson's mother here, because that helps us to know it was real."

The day's events had begun in a frosty dawn several kilometres away, outside the Morris Isaacson High School, from where the first group of teenage demonstrators had set out 30 years ago, led by a student called Tsietsi Mashinini.

After the march, Tsietsi went into hiding and later died in mysterious circumstances in Guinea.

His mother, Nomkitha, was there in a wheelchair to help unveil a monument in the middle of a newly created memorial park opposite the school.

"We thought it would just be a few months of struggle - unfortunately it didn't work out like that," she reflected.


At the monument, another veteran of '76 who had joined the ANC's liberation army explained its significance to a group of younger people.

"I wanted to be a doctor, but I ended up carrying an AK-47 and now I work for the police. The struggle changed me."

Man re-enacting the famous Hector Peterson photo
Many young South Africans now see the fight against apartheid as another world
Gilo Maguma, 40, was also involved in the protests, and is now unemployed.

"We are not liberated yet - we are still confined to 13% of the country," he said in reference to the fact that white people still own most of South Africa's land.

"Black people earn peanuts.

"16 June was important because it opened many doors - we do feel liberated spiritually but physically we are not liberated yet."

Led by President Mbeki, a few hundred marchers set off on the five-kilometre route to the Hector Peterson memorial: the same route taken by the students 30 year ago.

"I never got to the end of the march the first time around," one marcher said.

"This time I want to finish."


Amid the scheduled events there were moments of spontaneity too.

After the wreath-laying ceremony, a young guy with dreadlocks and an ANC golf shirt picked up a child in his arms walked at the head of the march, re-enacting the famous photograph of Hector Peterson that has become an icon of South African history.

Nomkitha Mashinini looks at a memorial to her son Tsietsi, who disappeared after leading the 1976 Soweto march
This mural commemorates Tsietsi Mashinini, who led the 1976 Soweto march
As he got tired he passed the boy from one marcher to another as they toyi-toyied - the dance that accompanies every South African protest march - and sang militant songs dating back to the fight against apartheid.

Leaving Hector Peterson Square scattered with the blue plastic water bottles, the last of the marchers got onto buses bound for the FNB Stadium.

There, those people who hadn't been so keen on a pre-dawn start on this public holiday were already arriving: at least 20,000 of them.

The mood was in tune with a place that's more used to football matches than to rallies of this kind.

As President Thabo Mbeki stepped out of a large black Mercedes and onto the green of the pitch, people started cheering and blowing vuvuzelas (plastic trumpets).

They cheered and whistled as a Rooivalk helicopter - the South African Air Force's meanest machine - treated the crowd to a display of aerial gymnastics.

President Mbeki urged the crowd to "remember all the brave young people who started the uprising in Soweto on 16 June 1976 and who are not with us today".

He touched on the problems that still face South African youth: hunger, run-down school buildings, the abuse of women and children, unemployment.

"May the courage and vision displayed by our youth 30 years ago serve to inspire and motivate us all as we strive to bring happiness to our youth and our people."

Many of the youngsters appeared to lose interest as Mr Mbeki's speech continued, and started drifting towards the gates.

But others, like Sibusiso Mthembu, 15, were no less earnest than the president: "Youth should support this and appreciate what people have done for them - and stop sleeping around and doing drugs."

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