Mocking Our Icons?


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It was the 16th of June 1976, the day that angry, frustrated black students took to the streets of Soweto in protest of Bantu education, Afrikaans as a forced medium of instruction in schools and apartheid in its totality. They marched, chanted anti-apartheid slogans and reiterated the messages of defiance written so blatantly on their placards. They were young. They were students. They were us.


Intimidated by these unarmed schoolchildren, the apartheid police opened fire. A precipitation of bullets that lethally decorated the atmosphere. It was a bloodbath where youngsters sacrificed their lives so that we, the youngsters of 2012, may be alive with possibilities, that we may live in a society free of laws that disrespect us, so that we may know what it means to have human rights. They were young. They were students. They were us.

Together they stood, dispersed they ran. From that day emerged a picture of a gunned-down young boy being carried to safety. A picture that came to represent the many lives that were lost, the many dreams that were never realised. The image of 12-year-old Hector Pieterson became a universal symbol of the potent role the youth played in the liberation of this nation. Some lived to document what happened, others died for a concept they never lived to see materialise.

Fast forward to the year 2012. We’re now at the point where we can desecrate images of such historical relevance. Is this how far we’ve come in our pursuit of democracy? We’re at the point where we can remake an image as politically sensitive as the Hector Pieterson photograph into an image in which a youth is passed out in a drunken stupor, flanked by equally drunk peers, beer bottles in hand. To me the saddest part is not the actual desecration of this image, it’s how we can find so much humour in the “spoof” that we parade it all over social networks as if it’s something to be proud of.

But perhaps it says something about what we’ve become: a generation that lacks a purpose or a cause. A generation that cannot relate to the meaning of its own rich historical and political heritage. Perhaps the meaning here is the way the image captures the struggle that faces 2012 youth.  Our struggle has become our deviation from morals and our plunge into the world of substance abuse. Our struggle is our own apathy and complacency. We’re very much on the fence about a lot of key issues.

Some people may say, “What’s the big deal, it’s history.” But we are a product of that history and it is a history that is being constantly perpetuated even decades after it occurred. It may be the past, but who are we without it? A disillusioned youth with no grasp on the very thing that forms our identity.

Writer: Litsoanelo Zwane

Designer:  Ryan