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Eulogy for Hector Pieterson
1964 – 1976
by Sharmagne Leland-St John

He will not speak in syllables now
He will not utter a sound
in English, Xhosa, or Afrikaans

But he will speak volumes
through his martyrdom
this 13 year old,
this boy,
this child
who took a bloody stand
who took a bullet
from a white man’s hand

This young “coloured” boy
not black, mind you, but “coloured”
in a colour-conscious nation
of murderers and enslavers
who would massacre children
for the colour of their skin or
for speaking their mind

This boy who joined his
Soweto classmates
in a peaceful protest
to resist learning a language
no one wanted to teach,
let alone speak
this hated language
of their oppressors
no one wanted to learn
these words that would fall
from this child’s pink mouth
like boulders, not like
his native tongue, which fell

like smooth stones
washed by the river
these words.

His sister Antoinette
will never forget
she will always hold
in her memory
in her mind’s eye
the sight of him
limp and lifeless
on that fateful day
in the strong
young-man arms
of Mbuyisa Makhubo
weeping as he ran
weeping as he
raced against time
Hector’s red blood
staining his cover-alls
and his name
running toward the press car
towards the photographers
and journalists
who have made her brother famous
only in death
Mbuyisa Makhubo
who had to go into hiding
forced to flee his homeland
for helping
to try to save this child’s life

Hector’s voice clear
as he sang the hymn
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
he was one of many
but not the first child
to take a bullet

just the first to die
and then to celebrate
his only and most important
rite of passage


Hector and Hastings Ndlovu
now rest in Avalon
side by side
and their voices echo
in our ears forever …
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika


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