Antoinette Sithole, Hector Pieterson’s sister,Â speaks about life after June 16.
On June 16, SowetoÂ students embarked on a march against Bantu education and the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools.Â Antoinette Sithole was only 16 yearsÂ old on theÂ day she lost her brother, Hector Pieterson,Â whoseÂ last moments were captured inÂ an iconic Sam NzimaÂ photographÂ flashed around the world.
Of the threeÂ peopleÂ in the picture, she is the only one left to speak out about the brutality of the day. Sithole, who nowÂ works at theÂ Soweto museum namedÂ in her brotherâ€™s honour,Â spoke toÂ UYANDA SIYOTULAÂ aboutÂ life after theÂ massacre.
Take me through your emotions on that day.
I was still young, I was very confused and sad. I was even scared to go tell my family what happened.Â Losing my brother was something else… it was painful. As emotional as it was, IÂ still honour that dayÂ becauseÂ it was theÂ turning point of my life and it willÂ always be important.
HowÂ did losing your brother and everything else that happened on June 16Â change your life?
I am doing interviews, sharing the story andÂ a lot ofÂ people still want to know what happened. At first I did not want to talk about the day.Â Maybe I was still emotional and had many questions and less answers. It motivated meÂ even though it had to take aÂ painful routeÂ but it wasÂ bound to happen and I am part and parcel of what happened on that day.
The picture was all over the media. How did you and the family deal with his death and that attention?
My mom never shed a tear when she was told about Hectorâ€™s death. At some point we were stressing because weÂ wanted to see her reaction. Two years laterÂ when we were talking aboutÂ Hector towards his birthdayÂ I askedÂ her why she did not cry. She said she took it as if â€œtheyÂ were talkingÂ with HectorÂ andÂ after parting waysÂ he wasÂ knocked down by a carâ€. It was very confusingÂ but laterÂ I understood thatÂ she was blocking the truthÂ rather thanÂ facing reality.Â The media did not affect us much.Â We comforted eachÂ otherÂ as a familyÂ through the years
What were some of your activities then?Â After Hectorâ€™s death did you become more political?
I was 16 and we used to play in the streets with other kids, but I no longer playedÂ much becauseÂ I wasÂ now maturing. I was broughtÂ upÂ by aÂ religious familyÂ who instilled religious values andÂ my teenage years were fantastic.Â Yes,Â of course a lot changedÂ after that, IÂ would be calledÂ in for questioning or to make a statement.Â But I was never political, even then. There were organizers of the march and we were just students. Till this day, I am not involved in politics.
How do you feel about June 16 celebrations and commemorations?
Those who are celebrating say it is forÂ the victory.Â But for me, I would appreciate it more if people could come together and have a moment of silence, light a candle or something. You know, put themselves in the shoes of those who participated on the day and lost their lives.Â So I feel it should be commemoratedÂ ratherÂ than celebrated. It would make me happy and would be the best wayÂ to honour them [those who died].
The youth of South Africa,Â theÂ same age as the 1976 students who protested, do you thinkÂ they are aware of our history andÂ what that day means? And does that reflect in their celebrations?
I cannot blame the kids for the way June 16 is celebrated, because they are not the ones who organise these events with music and artists.Â But I feel as though the youth today is not taking the struggle further.Â They do not sweat, they cannotÂ even stand up againstÂ issues of drugs, teenage pregnancy, HIV in their communities and schools. If one person could stand up,Â sayÂ â€˜let us fight drugsâ€™, then the wholeÂ school and communityÂ will join in.Â ThatÂ fighting spiritÂ we hadÂ has died.
What is the biggest struggle facing the youth today?
Drugs! If you want to kill a nation, introduce drugs and youÂ will see. I seeÂ pregnancyÂ but drugs are a big problem. Every time they introduce new drugs.Â Now there is whoonga and nyaope and they are destroying the future of our kids. It is a big worry.
What is the meaning of June 16 for you?
You know at times I donâ€™tÂ know how to describe it.Â ItÂ is a painful day. I neverÂ thought I would be in that situation but life is life and itâ€™s complicated. IÂ will foreverÂ honour theÂ day;Â to me itÂ is the greatest day ever. Yes,Â we are celebrating and commemorating itÂ nowÂ but to me,Â bloodÂ was shedÂ and I lost my brother,Â so for as long as I live IÂ will remember it.
How do you usually celebrate or commemorate the day?
I do not celebrate it or commemorate it because I am up and running on the day. People are inviting me here and thereÂ to give talks.Â Sometimes I go to work at the museum because we are usually hosting and busy. This yearÂ I do not have anything planned.Â I will probably be here working.