Dr John Kani implores government to establish fund for Struggle artists at Peter Magubane funeral

Former president Thabo Mbeki and Dr John Kani chat at the funeral of Dr Peter Magubane, the anti-apartheid photojournalist. Picture: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS

Former president Thabo Mbeki and Dr John Kani chat at the funeral of Dr Peter Magubane, the anti-apartheid photojournalist. Picture: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS

Published Jan 11, 2024


"We also fought!"

Actor and world-renowned playwright Dr John Kani has implored the ANC-led government to establish a fund for Struggle and cultural artists, musicians, journalists, writers, and photographers who contributed immensely to the fight against apartheid, to ensure that they do not die poor.

Kani was speaking at the funeral service of acclaimed photojournalist Dr Peter Magubane in Bryanston on Wednesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa accorded Dr Magubane a special provincial official funeral category in recognition for his contribution to the Struggle against apartheid.

Other high-profile guests at the funeral included former president Thabo Mbeki, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, Arts and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa, musician Abigail Kubheka, Struggle journalists such as Mathatha Tsedu and Joe Thloloe, amongst others.

Kani said Magubane should have died a very wealthy man for the work he did during the Struggle.

He said veterans of the cultural Struggle, like the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) soldiers who were being taken care of by the government, had to be taken care of by the government for their contribution as they “fought as well” and used their platforms and craft to put pressure on the apartheid regime.

“Minister Zizi Kodwa and I are working very hard to resuscitate and restructure the Living Legends Trust. Most of us who are over 70 worked during the time when we were not paid, that is why we are poor in 2023,” he said.

He said someone like Magubane was supposed to die as a dollar millionaire by the time of his death, but because of the time he worked in, he was not paid adequately for his work.

“We in the cultural struggle, we fought, we gave up, yet, we now die as paupers - we need the minister to do something about it. We want to work with the minister of arts and culture to find a structure which is close to the veterans of the MK, because we are the veterans of the cultural struggle.

“This structure will make sure that those who qualify—that we know their legacy and footprint—will be looked after in their sunset days, where they will be able to say I am not going to Sassa, I have my veterans pension to look after my family.

“That is within the writers, musicians, photographers, and journalists, especially those who worked during apartheid...

“I think we should have the veterans of the cultural Struggle (cultural diplomacy), that will give us an opportunity to honour the likes of Peter Magubane.

“We need to look after them; they cannot depend on Sassa and the R350; we owe them much more. It's very easy; you have recognised the MK veterans already; you have the formula, what we want is the veterans of the cultural Struggle,” he said to much applause at the Bryanston Methodist Church-held funeral.

Ramaphosa indicated the request would be looked into, while Arts and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa said his department had launched the Van Toeka Af programme last year, which had already honoured Magubane and Kani.

Kodwa said the purpose of the programme was to honour the cultural artists and give them their flowers while they could still smell them.

“In this way, we will have less posthumously bestowed accolades. We must rename churches and streets after them while they are still alive,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kani retold how Magubane potentially saved his life when he captured his 1972 arrest in Butterworth and documented it on the front page of the Daily Dispatch. He said he was arrested for furthering the aims of communism after he staged a play.

“To all the photographers in the house, you may not know how you kept us alive with your cameras. I remember when I was arrested in Butterworth in 1972 for putting on a play, and as the cops were dragging me, I saw a flash.

“We were arrested for furthering the aims of communism and I said I did a play for crying out loud.

“And then when I was in my cell for the 20th day, I saw a piece of paper from the Daily Dispatch with them dragging me. It was the first time I fell asleep because that photograph meant they could not kill me, because the world knows they have me. That was the work of Peter Magubane,” Kani retold.

Kani said amid teargas cannisters, stones and bullets flying, Magubane remained committed to his craft and capturing pictures that showed the brutality of the apartheid regime.

“The apartheid police did not fear so much our stones and petrol bombs, but they feared the camera because that camera exposed the brutality, and it was a record that they had that young man and they had to release him,” he said.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said he wanted to ensure the name of Peter Magubane was revered, not only around the world, but also in classrooms in SA.

“It makes no sense to have all these exhibitions around the world and not in our schools. This is the beginning to honour this giant of our revolution. The history of our country is incomplete if the name is not in our classrooms,” said Lesufi.

* The article has been updated.

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