Nakasa coming home at last
Nat Nakasa’s gravestone will remain in a New York cemetery to show that the South African journalist and author’s bones lay there for nearly half a century.
Nakasa’s sister, Gladys Maphumulo, who last had a glimpse of her brother at the then Jan Smuts Airport in Joburg in 1964, held her breath as she stood before that stone in New York’s Ferncliff Cemetery. US civil rights leader Malcolm X is buried just metres away.
When Maphumulo exhaled, she began crying. “I almost missed seeing him off at the airport [in 1964],” she said between tears.
“I only saw his white handkerchief waving to me like he was saying, ‘I see you, my sister. You’re late, but I see you.’ I didn’t know when he was waving goodbye that would be the last time I would ever see him.”
Nakasa – who wrote for Drum magazine, the Golden City Post (now City Press) and was the first black journalist to work for the Rand Daily Mail – was awarded a Nieman Fellowship by Harvard University.
The South African government forced him to choose: take the fellowship and relinquish his passport, or stay.
He took the exit permit handed to him by the apartheid authorities and went to the US. On July 14 1965, he jumped to his death from a building in Harlem.
Maphumulo said she hadn’t been able to sleep during her time in New York, where she and other relatives saw Nakasa’s remains exhumed on Wednesday and attended a memorial service in his honour on Thursday.
“It’s a miracle I am here, in this place, to bring my brother home,” she said.
Maphumulo’s son, Sipho Masondo, said: “We did it through Christ, through the word of God. When Joseph was about to die in Egypt, he instructed the sons of Jacob saying, ‘Never forget to lift up my bones when I leave this space.’ We are bringing the remains of one of our own back into our country.”
A memorial service will be held in the journalist’s honour on September 12.
EXILED Nat Nakasa gave up his SA passport after being awarded a fellowship at Harvard in the 60s