The President paid tribute to Magubane on Wednesday for his fearless use of the camera to capture the atrocities of apartheid, putting his life in danger.
“Despite all attempts to break his spirit and to take him away from his craft, he would not put his camera down. His work documenting apartheid helped shift global opinion against the regime. We have heard of how he would smuggle his cameras into hollowed-out bread, milk cartons, and I am told even the Bible, to take pictures without the notice of the authorities,” the President said on Wednesday.
Delivering the eulogy at Magubane’s Provincial Official Funeral in Johannesburg, President Ramaphosa said the apartheid regime did not care much for the lives it was extinguishing, according to SANews. Still, it cared a great deal about its image, especially how it was portrayed to the rest of the world.
“Peter Magubane’s images, and those of his peers, upended Hendrik Verwoerd’s great lie that apartheid was benign benevolence, a system of the separate but equal, and so-called good neighbourliness. He used his camera to record the experiences and struggles of black South Africans during apartheid. These images reached the world’s media and revealed to the international community the injustices that characterized South Africa at that time.
“As The New York Times obituary put it, Peter Magubane’s images documenting the cruelties and violence of apartheid drew global acclaim but punishment at home, including beatings, imprisonment and 586 consecutive days of solitary confinement,” he said.
Magubane passed away on 01 January 2024, at the age of 91. His photographic career began in 1955 after he joined Drum magazine as a driver and messenger.
He soon became a darkroom assistant, where his primary assignment was covering the African National Congress 1955 convention. He used his camera to record the experiences and struggles of black South Africans during apartheid.
“His archive testifies to an extraordinary range. For many years, he was President Mandela’s official photographer. Some of the most enduring images we have of Madiba were taken by his lens.
“He was there at the many turning points in the struggle against apartheid, and covered the various states of emergency during the mid-1980s. There are his stark images that documented the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the 1976 Soweto Uprising, and the many other acts of violence unleashed by the regime.
“Later in life, he would go on to produce photography on heritage and culture. Amongst them is one of my favourite of his works, The Vanishing Cultures of South Africa. It is an extraordinary collection that documents the lives, customs and cultures of our country’s ethnic groups,” the President said.
President Ramaphosa noted that it was his depictions of everyday life for black South Africans living under apartheid for which he was best known.
“These images that he began taking in the 1960s, appeared in distinguished publications like Drum magazine, Time magazine, the Rand Daily Mail, and others. One of his best-known images is of a black domestic worker stroking the hair of a white child seated on a Europeans Only bench.
“The photograph got worldwide attention for the power of the disturbing scene that it conveyed. That photograph also painted a vivid scene of the meaning of apartheid. It was able to transport the lived experiences of black people in South Africa to many people in distant lands.
“As important as it was to him to document the violence and bloodshed, it was equally important to bring home to readers and viewers the true face of petty apartheid with its convoluted and ridiculous laws and rules,” he said.
The President described him as a freedom fighter and one of the most fearless journalists the country has produced.
“Having read the many written tributes that have been penned over the past week by people who worked alongside him and were mentored by him, it is clear that the description of him as a legend is a fitting one,” he said.
Picture: Facebook / South African Government
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