New York - The rain pelted down on the lush grounds of Ferncliff Cemetery, Westchester, New York, on a late summer morning as Nat Nakasa’s relatives, including his only remaining sibling, Gladys Maphumulo, a niece and nephews, were finally able to gather and pray at the graveside of the gifted and troubled author who died in exile and who has been buried here for nearly 50 years.
Surrounded by a small cluster of people holding umbrellas, Maphumulo was overcome with emotion as she wiped away tears, before laying flowers on the brass plaque bearing Nakasa’s name.
There was a sense of closure that the family of the legendary journalist and writer who died tragically at the age of 28 after falling from a seven-storey building in Harlem, New York, were finally able to see his burial site and oversee the process of taking him home.
His remains will be exhumed, and after a church ceremony in Harlem, returned for burial near his hometown of Chesterville in KwaZulu-Natal.
Addressing the small gathering, which included Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Nakasa’s nephew Sipho Masondo, 54, said bringing his uncle back was a poignant moment of healing for the family.
“He’s going back not as a tragic person, but a hero,” he said. “He has made a phenomenal contribution in liberating us as a country.
“Uncle Nat… ,” he said. “When we go back on the flight we will be bringing you with us. We have prepared a wonderful place for you.”
Masondo said Nakasa was a “bridge builder” and that his homecoming would herald a new chapter of reconciliation and healing.
Mthethwa thanked the many who had assisted in the process of bringing Nakasa home, including US officials, the South African Department of Arts and Culture, as well as the government of KwaZulu-Natal and eThekwini municipality.
He also expressed his gratitude to those in exile with Nakasa at the time, including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and photographer Peter Magubane, who had helped bury him in New York.
Said Mthethwa: “Nat Nakasa was a symbol of resistance against apartheid colonialism in our country. His dedication and devotion to see a free country is unsurpassed. For him to come home and be repatriated to his home soil - this is what he wanted.”
Nakasa would be an inspiration to the youth. “The younger generation who choose to follow the path of journalism will be true to the values he chose.
“We want to introduce him to the younger generation in particular who do not know him, what he lived and died for.”
Mthethwa said they wanted to ensure that the family’s dream - seeing where he is buried and taking him back home - was realised.
Speaking after the ceremony, Maphumulo said coming to New York for the first time was “painful and exciting at the same time. I have been longing for so many years to see where he was buried.
“My father didn’t want him to go,” she remembered. “But he said, ‘No, Daddy, I will come back when this country is liberated’,” she said.
Her father had decided that his son should be buried in New York when the South African authorities insisted that his coffin must remain sealed if it was returned to the country.
Nakasa’s death on July 14, 1965 was regarded as a suicide, but there had been speculation that things may have been more complicated.