Picture: SA HISTORY ARCHIVE
Picture: SA HISTORY ARCHIVE

When Sam Nzima shot his iconic photograph of the mortally wounded Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo with Pieterson’s sister, Antoinette Sithole, at his side, he captured the horror of police repression during the June 1976 uprising.

Fast forward 41 years to a school in a very different SA — one that has been a democracy for 23 years.

At Selborne College, in the Eastern Cape, someone decided that Nzima’s image would make the perfect subject for a humorous poster bidding farewell to the class of 2017.

Makhubo and Sithole’s heads were replaced with those of dogs, and Pieterson’s head was removed.

The consequences of this schoolyard prank soon became clear, as an outpouring of shock followed.

The school’s governing body issued a statement saying it apologised for the poster, which bore the title "Class of 2017 Selborne College", and for "any misunderstanding caused by the artwork".

It quoted the poster’s unnamed artist, saying: "I was commissioned to do an artwork that expressed loss‚ grief or sadness that the matrics at the time could relate to.

"The two [heads] have been adapted into dogs as symbolism to our school. Selborne is often referred [to] by its official symbol of a Greyhound or Whippet dog and [this] was in no way meant to be derogatory or disrespectful."

What he was trying to depict was a devastated old Selbornian who has to hand back his blazer. "I wanted an artwork to represent [our] emotional feelings at the time of leaving the school. I viewed the iconic image as a powerful symbol of loss‚ that then brought forth better futures (historically speaking)‚ and thought it was a relatable image for our class and its success to come."

It’s one thing to haul the kid over the coals over the picture, but the school should perhaps do a little introspection. After all, five years of its history teaching left a pupil with the impression that June 1976 was a laughing matter.

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