Hector, A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid
Adrienne Wright tells the story of twelve-year-old Hector Pieterson’s (Pitso) iconic photo taken on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa. Students were protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Hector got caught up in the demonstration and did not move quickly enough to avoid the police who shot and killed him. Wright juxtaposes a regular weekend of Hector’s chores, soccer, and church with a minute of brutality that took his life. The series of events is told by three participants: Hector, his sister Antoinette, and a photographer Sam Nzima. The photo, which made front page news around the world, helped to galvanize opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime.
The cartoon format of the picture book lends itself well to upper elementary students who are learning about the world. The illustrations incorporate many cultural features not described in the text. The muted colors tone down the explosive nature of the photo. Despite the somber situation, there is humor when Hector takes a shortcut through a bramble patch. The back notes are informative and help readers understand the critical nature of this photo. As with the 1972 iconic photo of Kim Phuc being hit by napalm dropped by a U.S. air force plane in South Vietnam, this photo of Hector Pieterson showed the rest of the world the gravity of the situation in South Africa. The world began to take action in alliance with the students and African nationalists including sanctions on the South African government and withdrawing shares in companies in South Africa. Highly Recommended.
Reviewed by Patricia Kuntz, Ph.D.
Published in Africa Access Review (September 28, 2020)
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