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Renowned Anti-Apartheid Photographer, Peter Magubane, Dies at 91, Leaving Behind a Legacy of Courage and Iconic Images

Renowned Anti-Apartheid Photographer, Peter Magubane, Dies at 91, Leaving Behind a Legacy of Courage and Iconic Images
Peter Magubane

Peter Magubane, the fearless South African photographer who spent 40 years documenting the brutality of apartheid, has passed away at the age of 91. His death was confirmed by the South African National Editors’ Forum on Monday, following information from his family.

Magubane’s lens captured the violence and horror of the apartheid era, and he played a crucial role in documenting Nelson Mandela’s initial years of freedom after his release from prison. Widely regarded as a legendary photojournalist, Magubane covered pivotal moments in the liberation struggle against apartheid, leaving an indelible mark on the history of South Africa.

Among his most significant works is the iconic 1956 photograph depicting a Black maid sitting on a bench designated for whites only, gently caressing the neck of a white child under her care in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb. This image highlighted the absurdity of racial segregation, challenging the forced separation ingrained in society.

Magubane’s photographic journey began at the South African magazine, Drum, and later gained fame at the Rand Daily Mail newspaper. His international recognition grew as he contributed to Time magazine and Sports Illustrated. Despite facing imprisonment, solitary confinement, and a five-year ban imposed by the apartheid government, Magubane remained steadfast, choosing to fight against injustice with his camera.

He covered pivotal events such as the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the 1964 trial of Mandela and others, and the 1976 Soweto uprising, where his award-winning photographs exposed the violence and drew international attention. Magubane’s commitment to his craft led to multiple imprisonments and physical assaults by apartheid police, including being shot 17 times with shotgun pellets.

Notably, Magubane became the official photographer to Nelson Mandela after Mandela’s release in 1990. He continued documenting Mandela’s journey until the historic all-race elections in 1994 when Mandela became South Africa’s first Black president.

Reflecting on Mandela’s joy of freedom, Magubane cherished a photograph taken at Mandela’s 72nd birthday party, capturing the exuberance in Mandela’s eyes after 27 years of imprisonment.

Peter Magubane’s passing marks the end of an era, leaving behind a legacy of courage, resilience, and powerful imagery that will forever be etched in the annals of anti-apartheid history.

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