Salute and hats off to Nz­ima

Lens­man in­vited the world to see state bru­tal­ity

Sowetan - - Obituaries - By Jo-Man­gal­iso Mdhlela

Born: Au­gust 8 1934 Died: May 12

What made Sam Nz­ima morph from an or­di­nary news­pa­per pho­tog­ra­pher to a dec­o­rated world-class icon?

Born in Lil­ly­dale in Bush­buck­ridge, Mpumalanga, Nz­ima died on Satur­day at the age of 83. The ac­claimed pho­tog­ra­pher‚ Strug­gle ac­tivist and re­cip­i­ent of the Or­der of Ikhamanga will be given a spe­cial pro­vin­cial of­fi­cial fu­neral in Mpumalanga next week­end.

The hard-to-ex­plain split­sec­ond re­ac­tion to the apartheid evil, or the pres­ence of mind, or both, must have cre­ated a rare op­por­tu­nity for the news­pa­per­man to cap­ture the picture that would re­mind the world of the bru­tal na­ture of apartheid, and the de­spi­ca­ble cruel event of 1976 that ended the life of Hec­tor Pi­eter­son, only 12 ap­proach­ing 13.

Nz­ima was the only lens­man to cap­ture for his news­pa­per The World, and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, the rare iconic im­age of the dy­ing young boy. To­day Pi­eter­son would have been a ma­ture adult of 54 or 55.

Soweto on June 16 1976 was burn­ing. The stu­dents marched in the streets to protest against the apartheid sys­tem that re­quired them to re­ceive in­struc­tion through the medium of Afrikaans. When stu­dents ques­tioned the im­po­si­tion, the protes­ta­tions were met with po­lice bru­tal­ity and fire­power.

The life­less and limp body of Pi­eter­son cap­tured in Nz­ima’s lens was pro­found. It jolted around the globe to the ugly and grotesque face of apartheid.

Pi­eter­son’s limp body, with blood ooz­ing from it, and the weep­ing fig­ure of Mbuy­isa Makhubo car­ry­ing it, and Pi­eter­son’s sis­ter, An­toinette, sor­row­fully run­ning be­side the dead body of the young boy, were stark sym­bols to drama­tise the mo­ment of in­hu­man­ity meted out by op­pres­sion and in­jus­tice.

The picture cat­a­pulted Nz­ima to the sta­tus of a lib­er­a­tion fighter. There should be no gain­say­ing he was a ded­i­cated pho­to­jour­nal­ist, with a nose for news. But the irony of it all was that Nz­ima was in­dif­fer­ent to the lib­er­a­tion pol­i­tics that de­fined the Strug­gle to elim­i­nate apartheid.

This we know be­cause three years af­ter the stu­dents’ re­volt, chief min­is­ter Hudson Nt­san­wisi in­vited him to join the dis­cred­ited Gazankulu ban­tus­tan leg­isla­tive sys­tem, the brain­child of Hen­drik Ver­wo­erd – the chief ar­chi­tect of sep­a­rate de­vel­op­ment.

But this should not di­min­ish the role he played as a cel­e­brated pho­to­jour­nal­ist.

Also, we can­not fully ap­pre­ci­ate Nz­ima’s life with­out cast­ing our eyes to the man who was be­hind it all – the late ed­i­tor of The World at the time, Percy Qoboza.

Good­bye Nz­ima. We salute you as an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to the news­pa­per’s stand against apartheid in­jus­tice and op­pres­sion.


Sam Nz­ima took the fa­mous pho­to­graph of a dy­ing Hec­tor Pi­eter­son when the 1976 stu­dents’ ri­ots erupted in Soweto.

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