Peter Magubane was born on January 18, 1932, in the Johannesburg suburb of Vrededorp, now known as Pageview. He spent his early years in Sophiatown, a vibrant hub for famous black artists, musicians and writers. As a young boy, he witnessed the brutal effects of the apartheid regime on his community and became determined to fight against it. Over the years, he captured many iconic images of the anti-apartheid struggle, which earned him international recognition and numerous awards. Despite facing censorship and harassment from the apartheid authorities, Magubane never gave up on his mission to document the truth and inspire change.

By Staff Writer

Internationally acclaimed photojournalist Peter Magubane has passed away at 91, leaving the photojournalism community and South Africa in grief.

Fikile Magubane revealed that her father had faced health challenges before his passing. She said his family will remember and celebrate his unwavering commitment to advocating for and assisting others.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) issued a statement in which they paid homage to the legendary photojournalist Magubane, hailing him as a towering figure in the field of photojournalism. The statement also lauded him as a courageous journalist who fearlessly fought against the oppressive apartheid regime, risking his life to expose the atrocities committed against marginalised communities.

“Dr Peter Magubane, a giant in the field of photojournalism and a multi-award winner, including the Nat Nakasa Award for courageous Journalism, will forever be remembered as one of the brave journalists who defiantly opposed the apartheid regime in South Africa. Throughout the oppressive years of apartheid, he faced harassment, beatings, buckshot wounds, and prolonged periods of interrogation and detention.

“Remarkably, he survived being shot seventeen times at a student’s funeral in Natalspruit, Gauteng Province and endured over 586 days in solitary confinement in 1969.

“Magubane’s resistance was not only evident in his actions but also in his creative methods of capturing the truth. He ingeniously hid his camera in a hollowed-out Bible, firing with a cable release from his pocket. On other occasions, he covertly took shots with his camera concealed beneath his jacket, inside a milk carton, or half a loaf of bread, pretending to eat while documenting crucial moments,” read the Sanef statement.

Magubane had a long and illustrious career, spanning over six decades, during which he captured some of the most iconic images of South Africa’s past. His work was renowned for its power and depth, and he was widely regarded as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.

Magubane was a fearless chronicler of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, and his photographs provide a vivid and searing insight into the country’s tumultuous history. He was a gifted storyteller, and his images captured the humanity and resilience of the people he photographed. He was also a trailblazer, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of black photographers in South Africa.

Throughout his career, Magubane received numerous awards and accolades for his work, including the prestigious Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, South Africa’s second-highest civilian honour.

In his pursuit of truthfully documenting the social injustices that occurred in South Africa during the apartheid era, Magubane was subjected to police brutality and spent 586 days in solitary confinement.

His most notable work was his coverage of the June 16, 1976, student uprisings, which marked a turning point in the fight against apartheid. Magubane’s images captured the raw emotions and brutality of the police response to the peaceful protest, and his fearless storytelling earned him international acclaim.

Magubane had the honour of being former President Nelson Mandela’s official photographer from the 1990s until the early years of his Presidency. He had been associated with Mandela and Winnie Mandela since the 1950s, both as a friend and a photographer.

Despite facing harassment and imprisonment for his work, Magubane continued using his camera for social justice and change until his retirement in 2017.

In May 2023, the University of Pretoria bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his significant achievements. The award served as a testament to Magubane’s talent, dedication, and hard work in capturing the essence of South African life through his photographs.

In the absence of Magubane, his granddaughter, Ulungile Magubane, took the stage to deliver his acceptance speech. In his speech, Magubane stated that he had not received a conventional education, yet he had learned a great deal from the school of life. He believed that the experiences and challenges he faced throughout his life had been his primary source of education, which had helped him become the person he was today.

“I did not have a traditional education like many of you achievers,” he wrote in his acceptance speech.

“My education has been the university of life: the township streets, the rural areas, the farms, the homesteads, prison cells, detention halls, false arrests, solitary confinements, and police beatings.

“Everything I have come to learn… I learnt on the go. All I had in those dark days of apartheid was my work and a very rough sense of hope that God could not allow my people to suffer forever. I hoped that my images would move someone somewhere to do something.”

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