The Soweto uprisings commemorated in pictures

Peter Magubane’s poignant exhibition of pictures at the Apartheid Museum, captured during the Soweto uprisings of 1976, transports one back to a period of suffering and pain, and gives insight into one of apartheid’s most violent atrocities.

The exhibition is a raw product of one man who describes his work as a platform to show the world how apartheid worked in South Africa, and how black people were treated.

“Instead of standing and talking ... I spoke with my camera,” Magubane told the Mail & Guardian Online.

Dozens of black-and-white pictures hang from the ceiling and line the walls of the gallery. The pictures are divided into different phases: June 16 in Soweto, June 17 in Alexander, Hector Peterson’s Funeral, Soweto Later, Geneva Talks, Uprising Spreads, Mamelodi, KwaThema, Eastern Cape, All the Leaders on Trial, White Supporters, Forgive and don’t Forget and Death Toll.

Magubane’s thoughts and experiences are explained in words behind various photographs. But probably the most fascinating aspect of the exhibition is the dramatic metre-tall mesh photographs and accompanying quotes, which almost shadow the photographs.

Try looking into the teary eyes of a girl who has blood dripping down her face. Her eyes are drowned not only in tears, but also in torment and pain. And her mouth is shaped in a bloody toothed wail.

Magubane’s caption for this photograph reads: “This young girl was hit in the face with a police truncheon.”

“How could this have happened?” you might ask.

Magubane asked himself something similar after documenting the violence against the youth on June 16 1976.

“I don’t get emotionally involved with my work ... [only] after I’ve done the work and I’m sitting down, I ask myself: ‘You know, why do this?’

“I was there for the whole day and night. That evening, Soweto was no longer the same. There were so many people that were killed and so many were injured. The next day, I went to Alexander Township. The police went in there with a vengeance. They went in there for a kill. They did not use tear gas and rubber bullets. They were using real bullets,” he said.

Other photographs include that of a man’s burnt body lying on the ground, Hector Peterson’s funeral, a women running through the streets clutching her top over a wound caused by a passing bullet, heavy duty armed soldiers, a pregnant women in labour being escorted to the hospital by a police officer and various student marches.

A wall with the names of 593 children who died during the uprising will also be displayed, along with moving graphic images.

Wayde Davy, the operations and public programmes manager of the museum, said the exhibition is “dramatic” and is expecting a huge turnout from the public on Friday.

Magubane previously worked for the Rand Daily Mail from 1966 to 1979 and Time magazine. His photographs of the Soweto uprising are displayed all over the world (Mexico, Spain, and New York) and he is currently writing books on indigenous people.

The exhibition opens on Friday and will be officially launched on July 16 by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor. Entrance is R25 for adults and R12 for pensioners and students.

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