Sam Nzima with his iconic picture of Hector Petersen. Picture Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)
When Sam Nzima was growing up in his village of Lillydale in Bushbuckridge, he dreamt big and wanted to make a difference. When he saw his schoolteacher, Ben Mhlongo, with a Kodak box camera taking photographs, Sam’s inspiration was fired up and he knew he had to emulate his mentor.

At that time he held a part-time job at the Kruger National Park, and, with his modest earnings, he bought himself a camera, taking pictures of his schoolmates for 10c a shot. When Sam and his fellow villagers were compelled to harvest fruit for a local white farmer for a pittance, he packed his bags and headed for Joburg to try his luck in photography.

Little did he know that one of his photographs would play a pivotal role in the course of this country’s history.

Nzima died on Saturday, having retired back to Lillydale. 

Nzima is best known for taking the iconic photograph of a wounded Hector Pieterson during the 1976 youth uprisings, an image that was shown across the world and took the Struggle against apartheid into the living rooms of the most influential and the ordinary. The seeds of international opposition that would eventually topple apartheid had been planted.

The picture earned him a spot in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential photographs ever taken. 

Nzima was courageous and gallant. He epitomised the mission and determination of black reporters and photographers who brought the atrocities of June 16, 1976, to the world. 

While white South Africa was cushioned to the reality of what was going on in the townships, black newspaper staffers such as Nzima risked their lives - both from the protesters and policemen - to expose the truth. 

Due in large extent to his picture, thousands of young people skipped the country to join the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness Movement to fight apartheid.

With a single shot, Nzima captured the full brutality of apartheid in 1976. Rest in peace.

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Legendary photographer Sam Nzima dies at 83


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