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South Africa : Death of Peter Magubane, Photo chronicler for justice and equality in the Country

Peter Magubane is no more. The renowned anti-segregation activist photographed 40 years of apartheid in South Africa, including the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the trial of Mandela and others in 1964 and the Soweto uprising in 1976, when thousands of black students protested against the government’s law making the Afrikaans language compulsory in schools.

“I used my camera as a gun. I was prepared to die for my freedom. Nobody could stop from taking pictures ”

Peter Magubane, PhotographerSouth Africa

Photographer Peter Magubane, who told South Africa’s tumultuous story through his lens, died on January 1, 2024 at the age of 91. Born in 1932, Peter Magubane devoted his life to capturing the harsh realities of apartheid. Fearless, he established himself as a major figure in denouncing the brutality of racial segregation. His work not only documented the struggle for freedom, but also played an important role in raising global awareness of the injustices faced by the people of South Africa.

I was given that assignment. Police were all over. I said to myself, I will not go back to the office without a picture. I went and bought a half of a loaf of bread and put my camera in there and went back to where they were and photographed as if I was eating. They must have said, this negro is starved.” 

Peter Magubane, PhotographerSouth Africa

His determination to denounce racial violence earned him numerous beatings and 586 consecutive days in solitary confinement. Photography also enabled him to write 17 photographic books and earn 7 honorary doctorates.The dangers faced by black photographers in the segregated townships of apartheid-era South Africa were such that Peter Magubane took to hiding his camera in hollowed-out loaves of bread or empty milk cartons.His achievements include images of 69 unarmed demonstrators who died in Sharpeville in 1960, the trial of Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress leaders in Rivonia in the early 1960s, and the 1976 Soweto uprising. His most famous photo is certainly « Europeans Only », taken in a Johannesburg suburb. It shows a young white girl sitting on a bench with a sign reading « Europeans Only », while her black nanny sitting behind combs her hair.

“If you don’t forgive, you go around with your head swollen you can’t do things right because your head is full of grudges”

Peter Magubane, PhotographerSouth Africa

Peter Magubane’s contributions to the anti-apartheid movement will remain indelible in the annals of South African history. He leaves behind a legacy that transcends geographical and temporal boundaries.


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