Durban - A handkerchief waving from an aeroplane window in 1964 was the last connection Gladys Maphumulo had with her brother Nathaniel Ndazana “Nat” Nakasa as he jetted off to America, never to return alive.
Nakasa’s remains arrived back in Durban on Tuesday, 50 years after his departure on a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University.
In an interview with The Mercury at Dube Trade Port on Tuesday, an emotional Maphumulo spoke about the sadness she felt as a little girl when her brother was given an exit passport from South Africa.
“Our father (Chamberlin) didn’t want him to go as he was not allowed to come back, but Nat assured him that he would come back once South Africa was liberated, and that’s exactly how it has happened,” said Maphumulo.
The journalist was given a hero’s welcome. The delegation who had accompanied his family to fetch his remains from Ferncliff Cemetery, Westchester, in New York state, joined more than 100 people who had come to be part of his homecoming.
“For close to 20 years we’ve been praying for this day, and my other siblings died before our dream could be realised, but I’m glad that at least one of us could be here to welcome him home.
“This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” said Nakasa’s last surviving sibling.
Maphumulo spoke of the sadness she felt when she visited the New York apartment where her brother is believed to have committed suicide in 1965, at 27.
She said her pain had been exacerbated by the first visit to his grave after five decades of not knowing where his body lay.
She refused to discuss the circumstances surrounding his death, but said that she could not convince herself to believe that he took his own life.
“It was a long time ago and, as a family, we do not want to open those wounds or apportion blame because we are not really sure what happened.”
Maphumulo did not have words to express her gratitude to the government, the national and international community and the media for the role they had played in repatriating her brother’s body.
During on Tuesday’s ceremony, South African National Editors’ Forum executive director Mathatha Tsedu and Press Council director Joe Thloloe shared fond memories of working alongside Nakasa in the 1960s.
One of his few surviving friends, Thloloe said Nakasa was ahead of his time and “lived a liberal life in an oppressed country”.
He said today’s reporters should take a page from Nakasa’s life and not be afraid to ask the difficult questions.
Nakasa’s remains will be reburied in the Heroes’ Acre in Chesterville on September 12, after a church service in the Durban City Hall.