Hero’s farewell to Sam Nzima . . . the photographer who laid bare the brutality of apartheid


By Colleta Dewa

Mpumalanga – Thousands of mourners and dignitaries gathered in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, on Saturday to pay their last respects to veteran photojournalist Sam Nzima, who passed away after a short illness about two weeks ago.

He was accorded a provincial special official funeral.

Nzima became famous during the apartheid era when he captured the iconic picture of Hector Pieterson during the Soweto uprising in June 1976.

Deputy President David Mabuza attended the funeral and paid tribute to the late journalist describing him as a son of the soil who unwaveringly played a critical role of information dissemination during the apartheid era.

“Today marks a sad end of a chapter of a great life whose work made us believe in the possibility of our freedom. We are at a loss for words with the passing on of this great and yet so humble son of the soil. And who cannot feel lost, lonely, and shattered when he loses not only a father and a brother but also a friend in one person!

“Let me extend a special word of gratitude to His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa for declaring the funeral of this son of the soil, a Special Provincial Official Funeral. On behalf of the Presidency, we express our deepest condolences for the loss of Masana Sam Nzima, a giant photographer who through the lenses of his camera told the story of our struggle for liberation,” said deputy president Mabuza.

The deputy President acknowledged the important role that the media played during the liberation struggle, highlighting the specific pictures of the struggle that were captured by the late Nzima and remain vital to the history of South Africa today.

“On 16 June 1976, the extent of inhumaneness and brutality of apartheid laid bare, with the photo that immortalised an 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying a lifeless body of a young Hector Peterson. To this day, that iconic photo remains a reminder of our history. It became the emotive and historical landmark feature that forever defined how the June 16, 1976, narrative was told. 

“Because of this captivating but also horrifying picture was taken by uBab’ Nzima, the whole world took notice of the brutal killings of innocent people in South Africa. Just as the senseless killing of peaceful marchers against pass laws in Sharpeville, the 1976 generation also took resistance struggle to a higher level and brought required momentum to the armed struggle and international campaign.

“The two historical incidences are captured in powerful images, thus highlighting the role and power of photojournalism in our struggle for freedom,” he added.  

Businessman and friend to Nzima, Robert Gumede, said the late put Mpumalanga on the world map because of his photographic skills. 

“What can you say when a giant has fallen, what can one say when you talk about a world icon, that has put Lillydale and Mpumalanga on the global map. We gather today to say the last farewell, putting him in his final resting place.”

An emotional final message from Nzima’s widow Zinziswa to her husband was also read out during the funeral, “My dear darling Sam, when we first met it was love at first sight. I fell in love with your handsomeness and your dimples,” said the wife in her message.

Meanwhile, the government has pledged to honour Nzima by building a museum and a cultural village near his home. A school to be named after him is set to be built in Lillydale.

Nzima worked for the World newspaper in 1968 on a full-time basis as a photojournalist. Photography remained his passion and he concentrated more in this area of work.

Many of the pictures taken by Nzima were not published due to apartheid’s censorship systems.

However, the one that got to be published at the height of the struggle was so significant to tell a story more than words could describe. 

The same photograph was listed by Time Magazine as one of 100 most influential images of all time.

Nzima was recently honoured with the prestigious Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze.




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