While many of Soweto’s youth gathered at Mofolo Park for Youth Day celebrations on Monday, members of Mbuyisa Makhubu’s extended family, along with about a hundred Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members marched on the Hector Pieterson Museum and Maponya Mall. The aim was to hand over a memorandum demanding that the shopping centre take down a statue based on Sam Nzima’s photograph from the June 16 1976 uprising.
Both the photograph and the statue depict Makhubu holding a dying Hector Pieterson, running alongside Pieterson’s distraught sister, Antoinette Sithole.
As the picture came to symbolise the youth uprisings of 1976, Makhubu was harassed by the apartheid police and eventually fled the country a month later- first to Botswana and then to Nigeria.
Last year, it emerged that a South African man bearing a resemblance to Makhubu was in a Canadian jail for immigration charges and had been detained for nearly ten years. The department of arts and culture initiated efforts to repatriate the man, however their attempts failed. Canadian authorities said the man refused to co-operate, and his DNA results were subsequently pronounced inconclusive by the department of arts and culture.
But, Makhubu’s family is still convinced the man is indeed their son, Mbuyisa, and want him returned to the country.
Unauthorised name usage
The family is also on a crusade to stop what they deem as profiteering through what they say is the unauthorised use of his image and likeness.
In a ten-page memorandum addressed to Maponya Mall and the Hector Pieterson Museum, the family demand “for accountability of profits, revenue and other funds received from the 1990’s to present date from unauthorised name use.”
The family also wants Makhubu’s name and images removed from the museum’s archives.
According to the memorandum, the Makhubu Primary School should be the only entity that can continue to use Makhubu’s name, as due consultations and facilitations were obesrved.
Makhubu’s younger brother, Raul, said his brother’s image was being used to make a profit with none of the proceeds going to the family.
“We the Makhubu family have been taken for granted. They have been using Mbuyisa and Mbuyisa’s things without consulting us, now we feel its enough, they are making money, they are exploiting Mbuyisa and Mbuyisa is in prison. We are being exploited, we are being enslaved, everything is being done to us. And they’re (the South African government) saying he’s not South African. If he’s not South African then let him be removed from South Africa and posted to Canada where he belongs,” he said.
In 1998 Nzima, the photographer, won the rights to the iconic June 16 photograph after a lengthy legal battle.
Vincent Matlou, in chest-length dreadlocks with a large placard shouted that Mbuyisa Makhubu was alive in a Canadian prison. His placard read: “Nothing but the truth. Mbuyisa Makhubu, son of Lawrence Makhubu, a former MK soldier who died in exile Kenya.”
Asked about his views on the removal of the statue, which stands outside one of the mall’s entrances, Matlou said: “We want Mbuyisa to be moved because who cares? Nobody cares about him. They only want to make business out of him. Mbuyisa doesn’t belong there. He is not a statue, first of all, he is alive and in prison. We, the family of the Makhubu’s, we need him back home and we are sure that it’s him.”
Members of the EFF threatened to physically remove the statue from its place if they did not get a response to the memorandum within 40 days.
But Mpho Dibakwane, a communications officer for the Ward 53 command team, said they would have to see what happens after the stipulated 40 days before “becoming radical”.
“The family says there has been no consultation in the use of his image, so obviously they are being exploited,” said Dibakwane.
Makhubu’s elder sister,Ntsiki , said she supported the march for raising awareness about her brother’s fate but was not in support of the removal of the statue.
“When we speak about our issues, we must articulate ourselves correctly. The statues and so on do not belong to us, they belong to South Africa. Whatever is missing in our households should have no bearing on the national symbols. Mbuyisa is our brother, but he is a national hero. So his statue stands,” she said.
The Makhubu family promised to take the matter to court should the museum and the mall fail to respond to their demands.