Fearless Apartheid Photographer Peter Magubane Dies Aged 91

Fearless South African photographer Peter Magubane, who captured 40 years of South Africa’s apartheid era, has died.

According to Reuters, Magubane’s daughter Fikile Magubane said that the photographer died peacefully around midday on Monday at the age of 91.

Magubane was a celebrated photographer across the world. His searing images captured the cruelties and violence that Black South Africans faced for four decades under apartheid.

While his images drew global acclaim, Magubane was punished for his photography at home in South Africa. He was regularly harassed, assaulted, arrested, and spent 586 days locked up in solitary confinement

Magubane was born in 1932 in the Johannesburg suburb of Vrededorp (now known as Pageview).

According to Reuters, Magubane gained prominence as one of the few Black photographers documenting the repressive apartheid era after he joined the South African magazine Drum in 1955.

One of his most renowned images, taken a year later in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb, showed a White girl sitting on a bench with a sign reading “Europeans Only” while a Black nanny sat behind her combing her hair.

Magubane went on to photograph decades of apartheid South Africa, including the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the trial of Mandela and others in 1964, and the Soweto uprising of 1976 — when thousands of Black students protested against the apartheid government’s law making the Afrikaans language compulsory in school.

A Photographer Who Fought Apartheid With His Camera

According to AP News, Magubane became a target of South Africa’s apartheid government after photographing a protest outside a jail where Mandela’s then-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was being held in 1969.

Following this, Magubane was jailed and kept in solitary confinement for over a year-and-a-half.

The photographer was imprisoned numerous times during his career and subjected to a five-year ban that prevented him from working or even leaving his home without police permission.

Magubane said that he was shot 17 times with shotgun pellets by apartheid police while on a photography assignment and was beaten and had his nose broken by police when he refused to give up the images he took of the Soweto uprisings.

Faced with the option of leaving South Africa to go into exile because he was a marked man by the apartheid regime, Magubane bravely chose to stay and continue taking photographs.

“I said, ‘no I will remain here. I will fight apartheid with my camera,’” Magubane reportedly said in a recent interview with national broadcaster SABC.

Magubane was appointed official photographer to Mandela after the anti-apartheid leader was released from prison in 1990 and photographed Mandela up until he was elected the first Black president of South Africa in historic all-race elections in 1994.

Following news of his death this week, the South African government paid tribute to Magubane — saying the photographer “covered the most historic moments in the liberation struggle against apartheid.”

Image credits: Feature photo licensed via Flickr/BBC World News.