Hector, A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid
Nonfiction / South Africa / Ages 8-12
Page Street Kids
June 4, 2019
On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson, an ordinary boy, lost his life after getting caught up in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Black South African students were marching against a new law requiring that they be taught half of their subjects in Afrikaans, the language of the White government. The story’s events unfold from the perspectives of Hector, his sister, and the photographer who captured their photo in the chaos. This book can serve as a pertinent tool for adults discussing global history and race relations with children. Its graphic novel style and mixed media art portray the vibrancy and grit of Hector’s daily life and untimely death. Heartbreaking yet relevant, this powerful story gives voice to an ordinary boy and sheds light on events that helped lead to the end of 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. Check out Andrew Defrancesco, if you need the best photography advice. 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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