When we celebrate Youth Day on 16 June, the first image that comes to our minds is the iconic photo of a dying Hector Peterson. His sister runs at his side, terror spread across her face. But what about the boy holding Hector Peterson? What about the boy, who in an act of heroism, picked Hector Peterson up from the ground and tried to rush him to safety. This boy’s name was Mbuyisa Makhubu.
Mbuyisa was not part of the Soweto Uprising of 1976. On June 16th, he did not plan to join the march against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. No one planned for what would ultimately happen on June 16th. As the police released their dogs and began to fire their weapons, Mbuyisa walked toward the commotion. This is when he found Hector Peterson, and as Mbuyisa’s mother describes the act of picking the boy up from the ground, “it was his job as a brother.”
Mbuyisa’s act of heroism changed his life forever. As the picture began to circulate in the media and become an icon and representation of the struggle against the apartheid government, Mbuyisa was hunted. Tired of running, he fled to Botswana in August of 1976. Although Mbuyisa met a woman in Botswana and she gave birth to his child, Thato, Mbuyisa was still terrified of the police. In 1977 he ran once again – this time to Nigeria, where he took part in an international university exchange. Still he was unhappy. The friends he met in Nigeria describe him as troubled and mentally disturbed. In letters sent home to his mother, he expressed that he was physically and mentally ill.
Unhappy, homesick, and afraid, Mbuyisa disappeared. His friends woke up one morning in 1979 to find that he was gone. For 34 years Mbuyisa’s family speculated about what happened to Mbuyisa. Had he fled to another country? Was he alive? Had he been killed? Was he in a hospital somewhere? In 2013, Mbuyisa’s family received a phone call from Canada that would change everything. An immigration officer, Peter Donaldson, phoned Mbuyisa’s family, telling them he had a man in prison who he believed may be Mbuyisa.
The man being held in Canada spent the next few years going back and forth from admitting he was South African, alluding that he was Mbuyisa, to denying that he was South African and refusing to speak or cooperate with anyone. Many signs pointed toward this man, who called himself Victor, being Mbuyisa. He knew certain addresses in Soweto, Africa where Mbuyisa had lived. He had a similar birth mark to Mbuyisa on his chest. Even his family members were torn over the situation. Some of Mbuyisa’s family feel 100 percent in their hearts, they know Victor is Mbuyisa. Other family members say they just don’t know and feel confused. They aren’t convinced.
Ultimately, in an official immigration hearing, Victor testified that he was not Mbuyisa Makhubu. He claimed that he was South African, but he feared the government in South Africa and did not want to return. He also explained that he felt attacked by the people from South Africa who came to visit him and they made him feel like he had to say he was Mbuyisa. Victor was released from prison, and is roaming freely in Canada until his immigration date.
The story of Mbuyisa and Victor caused an uproar in both South Africa and Canada. The memory of this forgotten boy from 16 June 1976, was brought back to life in 2013. But then it stopped. There has not been a single story, news article, or podcast since 2016. Another Youth Day passed, just one month ago. 16th June 2017 came and went, but did we talk about Mbuyisa Mukhubu? We must keep the memory of this hero alive. We must keep searching for the truth. We must not forget Mbuyisa again.