Sam Nzima and his camera 'a potent weapon''
Johannesburg - Search June 16, 1976 on the web. You’re certain to come across an avalanche of copies of photographs of a slain Hector Pieterson snapped by the legendary Sam Nzima.
That is the extent to which the work of Nzima, who died this past weekend at an Mbombela, Mpumalanga, hospital, had become synonymous with the historic day.
Nzima collapsed at home on Thursday and was rushed to hospital.
Nzima was 83. He had retired to his hometown of Bushbuckridge, where he also ran a school of photography.
It is hard to imagine the Soweto 1976 student riots against being taught in Afrikaans without thinking of his iconic image. A photo-journalist attached to The World newspaper at the time, Nzima captured a crying Mbuyisa Makhubu and Antoinette Sithole rushing a fatally wounded 13-year-old Pieterson to a car.
The picture became one of the major symbols of the Struggle against apartheid, a point political parties highlighted when paying tribute to Nzima yesterday.
“It is this photo that caused the world to come to terms with the brutality and evil of the apartheid system,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe.
Parliament’s Moloto Mothapo said: “The photograph, published widely, helped force the world to take notice and act against a government, prepared to kill even children so that it could continue enforcing its oppressive policies of racial discrimination and oppression.”
Mothapo added that Nzima “belonged to a generation of photographers who used the power of the camera lens to make an immense contribution to the Struggle against that repressive regime and to bring about freedom and democracy”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said Nzima would be etched in people’s minds for his iconic photograph. “His camera captured the full brutality of apartheid oppression on the nation’s psyche and history from the Defiance Campaign through to forced removals and the Soweto student uprisings.
“We will especially remember his iconic photograph of a dying young Hector Pieterson, which became a symbol of resistance against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in the black schools,” said Ramaphosa.
Pakes Dikgetsi, chairperson of Cope, said of Nzima: “His camera was a potent weapon to capture historic moments and which could never be hidden, distorted or denied by the apartheid regime, which naturally sought to erase such memories and events.”
Nzima paid a heavy price for his work. He resigned from his job after the photo was published and fled from Johannesburg. The apartheid regime arrested and placed him under house arrest for 19 months at Lillydale, Mpumalanga after The World published the photo.
In 2016, he told Time Magazine he knew the regime would hound him.
“The law of the country was that we were not allowed to take pictures of anything that the police have done.
“So I knew I was risking my life.”
Time Magazine listed the picture as one of the 100 most influential photographs ever taken.
Nzima was also the recipient of the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze in 2011. The state awards this honour to South African citizens who have excelled in arts, culture, literature, music, journalism or sport.