Legendary Kumalo photos abandoned in museum

The deceased Alf Kumalo Photo: INLSA

The deceased Alf Kumalo Photo: INLSA

Published Oct 16, 2017


The legacy of veteran photographer Alf Kumalo could go down the drain as hundreds of rare photos he shot during apartheid gather dust at his now crumbling museum in Soweto.

What was meant to be the pride of Soweto for aspiring photographers and art collectors when it opened in 2001, the Alf Kumalo Museum in Diepkloof has over the years degenerated into a nyaope den, hideout for criminals and an eyesore.

Saturday will mark five years since Kumalo died of cancer. His family blamed delays in the execution of Kumalo’s estate.

Hundreds of iconic pictures from the apartheid-era and celebrities at the 2010 World Cup were left lying on the floor while others were torn.

Equipment, which included negatives and a vintage camera, were left in the adjacent dark room.The leaking roof has stained the ceiling.

The building has been burgled twice and a hard-drive with thousands of pictures that were being processed was stolen. The museum and its photography school closed soon after Kumalo died.

“This place was a sorry sight and in a very bad condition when I moved in a few years ago. Nyaope boys and homeless people lived here,” said Stanley More, who was asked by the Kumalo family to look after the building. He converted one room into a bedroom.

More had spent some of his money fixing the building, including maintaining the yard.

“When I moved in those palm trees had started covering the entire building and the ceiling was starting to cave in. It was not looked after. Even Alf’s children hardly come here. The only ones who do are people who want to shoot films or music videos."

The family’s executor, Tebogo Kwape of Kwape Attorneys, was shocked that more pictures were still at the museum. “As far as I know we collected every piece of work for safekeeping. I was there. Where are these new ones coming from?” he asked.

The museum was funded by an Italian-based NGO.

Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation spokesperson Nomazwe Ntlokwana was unsure yesterday if her office would step in to rescue the project, but promised to consult officials in her office.

Freelance photographer Paballo Thekiso started his photography career at the museum when it opened and later became a tutor there before working for different media companies.

He remembered the museum as being well-equipped with two darkrooms, a studio and lessons which were free and given by highly-qualified photographers.

“Alf was a big name. Everybody wanted to help out, because of his stature. That place is close to my heart. It’s sad to see Bra Alf’s work die like him. Unfortunately my hands are tied, because of the estate matter, which is not complete,” said Thekiso.

Kumalo’s son, Sizwe, who helped his father run the museum, conceded that the museum was malfunctioning mainly due to theft and delays in the execution of his father’s estate, which would help to bring it back to life.

In his last will seen by Cape Times’s sister publication, The Star, Kumalo gave the museum to his six children from his first marriage. He instructed his son Mzilikazi from his second marriage to manage it. His estate which included five properties, life policies, two vehicles, photographs and shares in Umnotho weSizwe Group was divided among his children and last wife.

“We have been struggling to get my father’s estate finalised, since his death. The executor tells us that he has been given a run around by Umnotho and that he cannot distribute half the estate without knowing the value of the shares my father has in Umnotho.

"There is nothing I can do about the museum until that process has been completed,” said Sizwe.

Kwape said the delay was being caused mainly by getting rates clearance certificates for two properties.

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