A pupil at Selborne College, who was responsible for reviving and desecrating an iconic photo of a dying Hector Pieterson in the 1976 Soweto uprising, claims the changes he made to the original picture was not meant to depict any "racism or prejudice".
This follows widespread criticism on social media of an invitation, depicting the historic picture, to matriculants for a reunion at the school's Old Boys Club.
The original photograph shows Pieterson being carried by fellow pupil, Mbuyisa Makhubu, while Pieterson's sister, Antoinette Sithole, runs alongside them.
In the invitation to matriculants, Makhubu and Sithole's faces are replaced with faces of dogs, while Pieterson's face appears to have been removed.
The College's school governing body has apologised.
"We [the school's governing body of Selborne College] recognise the iconic nature of the image which reflects a turning point in the painful history of South Africa and its people," it said.
"Whilst this artistic impression and function was not sanctioned by the school, the governing body recognises the offence and hurt that the image has caused. We apologise unreservedly."
The unnamed pupil said he believed he was misunderstood.
Here is his response;
"I got my inspiration from an iconic image that I saw from my history text book. I was commissioned to do an artwork that expressed loss, grief/ sadness that the matrics at the time could relate to. At the time I was learning history and came across the iconic photo and thought that it was the perfect image to use to express the pain and loss the matrics of that year were feeling, including myself.
In terms of the artwork itself in relation to iconic image. I wanted no humans to be in the artwork, my intention was to adapt the photo into a Selborne based artwork (as to have no connection, physically, to the past).
The two people have been adapted into dogs as symbolism to our school. Selborne is often referred by its official symbol of a Greyhound or Whippet dog, as it is part of our school badge and was in no way meant to be derogatory/ disrespectful to any persons.
I chose to replace the two people standing with dog's head to make it relatable and symbolistic to Selborne. The image is meant to represent the matric body (as a singular person carrying the blazer) as well as close family members' that also had connection to Selborne (following the student(s)). In the picture the devastated, now old Selbornian, has to hand back the blazer he has worn through his schooling career.
Family and friends (represented as the female dog on the left) follow on behind the Selbornian, equally shattered by the end of the students' career. The students are in casuals as they no longer have to wear their school uniforms. Main theme of loss and better futures as we go off to study.
Here is what I intended. I wanted an artwork to represent (our) emotional feelings at the time of leaving the school, only for Selborne matrics of 2017. I viewed the iconic image as a powerful symbol of loss, that then brought forth better futures (historically speaking), and thought it was a good relatable image for our class and its success to come. There was never meant to be any racism or prejudice within the artwork and I apologies for any misunderstanding the artwork has caused."
"I chose to replace the two people standing with dog's head to make it relatable and symbolistic to Selborne."
The Old Selbornian Association has distanced itself from the image.