Sam Nzima Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Johannesburg - Legendary photographer Sam Nzima, best known for the Hector Pieterson picture he took during the Soweto uprisings in 1976, has died at the age of 83.

According to reports, Nzima died in a Nelspruit hospital on Saturday evening. The cause of his death has not been confirmed.

Nzima's picture of Hector Pieterson, taken amid the chaos of flying bullets and crying schoolchildren, became the iconic image that thrust the 1976 Soweto uprisings into world headlines.

In an interview with The Star in 2013, Nzima recalled the events of that day: “A guy with a stick under his arm told the schoolchildren he was giving them three minutes to disperse. The defiant children began singing Nkosi Sikilel’ Afrika before all hell broke loose as the man reached for his gun and began shooting and shouting skiet.”

The children scattered, screaming.

“I saw Hector Pieterson fall down and Makhubo pick him up. I ran to the scene and took the pictures.

“Our press car was the nearest vehicle there and they put him inside and took him to Phefeni Clinic. But he was certified dead on arrival.”

Nzima knew what he had just captured with his camera was big.

He hid the film in his sock. He loaded fresh film and continued shooting. The police confiscated all the film they found on him. They missed the cartridge tucked away in his sock.

Read more: ‘Hector Pieterson pic ruined my life’


The Hector Pieterson memorial in Orlando West, Soweto where the famous Sam Nzima picture is displayed.

At that time, Nzima was working for The World. When his film was developed, there was much deliberation as to whether to publish the powerful picture.

There were many rules in place at the time regarding the publication of images. Breaking these could prompt the government to go as far as closing down a newspaper.

In this instance, the picture under discussion depicted a schoolchild who had been shot by the police. The image would enrage the government.

Editor Percy Qoboza and the chief sub-editor decided to go ahead and publish. It was a decision that brought Nzima instant fame.

The copyright belonged to the Argus Group, which owned The World.

After the Independent Newspapers Group bought the Argus Group, The Star gave Nzima the copyright in 1998.