Nakasa com­ing home at last

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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

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