Eulogy by Deputy President David Mabuza at the special provincial official funeral of Mr Masana Sam Nzima, Lillydale, Mpumalanga Province
Family Members and Friends of Mr MasanaSam Nzima,
Honourable Premier of Mpumalanga, Ms Refilwe Mtshweni,
Ministers, Deputy Ministers and MECs present
Members of Parliament, MPLs, Mayors and Councilors present
Members of the business community
Our esteemed Traditional Leaders
Today marks a sad end of a chapter of a great life whose work made us believe in the possibility of our freedom. We are at a loss for words with the passing on of this great and yet so humble son of the soil.
And who cannot feel lost, lonely, and shattered when he loses not only a father and a brother but also a friend in one person!
Who wouldn’t struggle to stop the tears from dropping that force its way from the depth of your being when you hear that a special part of you has left you forever!
And today, because I am in the presence of the still body of my father, my brother, and my friend, I will ask Peter Magubane and beckon the spirit of Alf Khumalo and Juda Ngwenya to lead us again � to lead us � we great people of Mpumalanga in another shutter salute as we return the mortal remains of this good soul to our ancestors.
Let me extend a special word of gratitude to His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa for declaring the funeral of this son of the soil, a Special Provincial Official Funeral.
On behalf of The Presidency, we express our deepest condolences for the loss of Masana Sam Nzima, a giant photographer who through the lenses of his camera, told the story of our struggle for liberation.
Indeed the people of Bushbuckridge and entire South Africa are mourning the passing of uBab’ Sam Nzima.
The news of his passing brought sadness and sorrow not only to the people of South Africa but to the entire world that came to know uBab’Nzima through his photojournalism work.
At the height of repressive laws and political violence meted by the apartheid regime on the black majority of our country, the myth and facade of a normal state was instantly broken.
That facade had for years been sold to international community, and was shattered through an incident frozen in eternity by a camera of a photojournalist whose mortal remains lie in front of us today.
On 16 June 1976, the extent of inhumanness and brutality of apartheid was laid bare, with the photo that immortalised an 18-year-old MbuyisaMakhubu carrying a lifeless body of a young Hector Peterson.
To this day, that iconic photo remains a reminder of our history. It became the emotive and historical landmark feature that forever defined how the June 16, 1976 narrative was told.
Because of this captivating but also horrifying picture taken by uBab’Nzima , the whole world took notice of the brutal killings of innocent people in South Africa.
Just as the senseless killing of peaceful marchers against pass laws in Sharpeville, the 1976 generation also took resistance struggle to a higher level and brought required momentum to the armed struggle and international campaign.
The two historical incidence are captured in powerful images thus highlighting the role and power of photojournalism in our struggle for freedom.
From that fateful day, the nature and character of peoples’ resistance to apartheid changed forever.
It was a defining moment in our history thatsparked an international outcry and mobilised young people into swelling the ranks of the national liberation movement in exile.
Even those who had stood on the side of the regime as its allies, began to acknowledge that indeed the philosophical basis of apartheid was wrong, evil and a crime against humanity.
It hardened the international opinion against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which later led to sanctions being imposed.
For uBab’Nzima and other journalists, it meant harassment from the regime.
For his part, the fascist apartheid regime responded by banning and putting him under house arrest thus denying his freedom of association.
That frozen moment in picture by Nzima changed the course of history and, in no time, nature and character of our struggle against apartheid and all its heinous crimes was changed and became more militant thus pushing the regime to a corner of defeat.
As Vladimir Lenin had correctly observed,
There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.
And June 16, 1976 was such a day where something so significant to define the history of this country happened.
The image associated with that moment, is the one captured by Sam Nzima.
The student uprising of 1976 was not just about the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. But it was about the whole system that wassubjecting the black majority to the margins of civilisation.
Basically, into an abyss of history through denial of equal opportunities to education and all opportunities that flow from it.
It was also to transform the provision of education as an instrument of change, and one that opens doors for all children irrespective of where they were born or into which families they were born.
Like the lives of many of us who were born in small villages or as farm dwellers, Nzima was born in Bushbuckridge and grew up on the farm where his father worked.
He had dreams and aspirations in life.
The conditions of the time dictated that whatever those dreams could be, but by being born on a farm one was expected to provide manual labour for the benefit of the tenant.
Many of our black compatriots never got to realise their dreams, because those dreamsdied an undignified death in the agricultural fields through forced manual labour.
Nzima went through the same life experience.
However, his dream to further his education motivated him to run away from that life andseek better opportunities in Johannesburg. That is where he continued his education through various correspondence colleges and did some odd jobs in order to survive.
He later joined The World newspaper in 1968 on a fulltime basis as a photojournalist. Photography remained his passion and he concentrated more in this area of work that would make us know him and his work.
Many of the pictures taken by Nzima were not published for us to see and read the message he was communicating through his art. However, we are content that the one that got to be published at the height of our struggle, was so significant to tell a story more than words could describe.
We celebrate the fact that among awards Nzima won, our country honoured him with the prestigious Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze. The same photograph was listed by Time magazine as one of 100 most influential images of all time.
This picture which remains embedded in our minds and the minds of the whole world, is his legacy that will remain forever.
uBab’Nzima’s involvement with the government of Mpumalanga dates way back before democratic dispensation and continued for some time. In 1995 he was appointed as a member of the first Mpumalanga Tender Board.
Together with a number of prominent people of this province, he played a critical role in the establishment of effective governance and oversight structures during the early days of this democratic dispensation.
He was therefore part of institutional structures that led to the implementation of various capital projects including schools, clinics, roads and above all the Riverside government complex.
He was more than just a photojournalist. His contribution to the development of this province is monumental.
In his tribute to Nzima, Professor Somadoda Fikeni put it so powerfully when he said:
“The photographers are the invisible lot but whose presence are felt in every story. Nzima’s picture of Peterson spoke a million words, which no editor or writer could write so articulately.
Bab’Nzima belonged to a generation of fearless photojournalists who used the might of their lenses to expose the brutality of the nationalist party regime.
He and other esteemed photo-journalists of this era including Peter Magubane, ShadrackNkomo, Ernest Cole, Santu Mofokeng and Omar Badsha played an active role in the South African liberation struggle as cultural and political activists. This confirmed the old adage that a picture tells more than a thousand words.
Bab’Nzima and others of his ilk courageously confronted the apartheid system by ensuring that the stories of the oppressed masses are not relegated to footnote of history.
The power of such legacy lies in the message that is communicated through images. By only reading without graphic representation of the atrocious acts of the past, there is always a risk that such painful past may easily be lost and taken for granted. However, pictures capture the imagination for eternity.
Through that popular picture this hero took on that fateful day in June 1976, we have been able to tell our own story using our own perspective and our own narrative.
This body of work should continue to inspire us as a nation in our quest for building social cohesion. We must continuously have conversation on how we forge ahead and overcome other national challenges without resorting to brutality.
It also should inspire us to focus more in thedevelopment of local content (documented and educational) which promotes, debates and strengthens our sense of social and cultural identity as South Africans.
As we tell our stories, these must draw from our complex social and political history as well as our current cultural diversity.
Using pictures we must juxtapose the socio-economic conditions of our people from where we come from to where we are at today. This would allow us to make constructive criticism based on factual information.
As we pay our last respect to this great son of the soil, we can humbly claim greatness because Nzima showed us, that greatness is an outcome of extraordinary success against the odds.
Today we are able to raise our heads high and say a son of the Nzimas whose umbilical cord was cut here lifted not only this place, but his entire country with the work of his hands.
For it is here that Sam Nzima first opened his eyes to later open the eyes of the world to the brutality of a racist apartheid regime that stood between his people and their dreams.
For it is here that his loving heart took and locked the pain of the suffering and exploitation of his people at the farms.
It was here that he had to walk on foot on rainy days to school searching for answers why the universe seemed to militate against the children of kin and all those of a darker skin.
And my dear friend would never allow us to wallow in unending grief. Knowing him, he would ask us to deepen the revolution of the most despised.
He would whisper in our ears that we must again make time for the domestic workers for they often occupied the centre of his frame.
He would ask us if we greet gardeners and treat them with respect because in his youth, this too was the job that paid for his living in the big city.
He would probably wonder if after we have been served by our sisters, brothers, and parents at restaurants, do we look at them in the eye and thank them sincerely – for in his life he was often rendered invisible by the patrons he served with the grace of his heart.
He would ask us if today we are raising the consciousness of the nation by documenting the struggles of students who are still treated with contempt and indignity by educational institutions even when as government we are investing to open the doors of culture and learning to the children of farm workers, mine workers, and domestic workers.
And he would challenge all of us as leaders and as a nation if we have come to appreciate the bread and butter struggles that photographers and all great artists go through.
And as we lay him to rest, we know that we need to do more to restore the dignity and humanity of our photographers and many of those who have chosen the creative arts as their calling and vocation. We know this because he fought a long battle to have the copyright to his iconic photograph.
Those whose vocation is to capture our history, interpret it, and offer us imaginative possibilities deserve all the support they need as we rebuild and unite our society from the ruins and divisions of the past.
It is people like Sam Nzima, KeorapestseKgositsile, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and others that we must fully support to be the critical conscience of our nation and our voice of reason.
For to achieve greatness and success in the creative arts, one’s heart and passion must always be with the people and their circumstances.
By nature or design, they are people deeply passionate about life and the wellbeing of their fellow human beings. In their portrayal of reality, they compel us to confront our blind spots.
They cannot continue to live and die as paupers only to be praised and celebrated when they are resting forever. That is why the Creative Industry Commission that we pronounced whilst I served as a Premier of this Province, should harness the potential of such people and protect their intellectual property rights.
When there are so many untruths and so much disharmony, they need to be supported to help our nation live in truth, trust, and peace.
In reflecting and interpreting our world, they need to allow us to dream and to hope again.
And because we will forever live in the presence of Sam Nzima’s iconic June 16 picture, we know that he will always be there with us.
Even in his deep quiet, never to utter a word anymore, we see the tear drop in his broken heart as he takes a picture of a dying young person who could have been him or his child in the maddening chaos of June 16.
Even in his eternal quiet, we see him running to his darkroom to get a picture that would be the first to depict for the world the cruelty and disgrace of the apartheid regime.
A heartless regime that murdered young children marching in peace and singing NkosiSikelela i-Afrika.
And with all the international acclaim the first picture in ‘The World’ newspaper that painted the brutality of the murderous regime, South Africa remained blessed with a humbly human being who never boasted about his success.
Even when the world cherished his picture more than it was concerned about the soul behind this perceptive and sharp lens, he moved on with his life accepting that his struggle was the struggle of many South Africans.
When he and his wife had to sell their home in Chiawelo to escape the brutality and harassment of the special branch, he returned here to live as a prisoner of hope in his home because the regime feared the power and focus of his eye.
And it trembled at the hint of his abounding love for his people.
Even at the twilight of his age, Soweto day remain vivid. In thanking him for his work in documenting our struggle, we also thank his family and his ancestors for blessing him with his gift and historic timing.
It is men like him who indeed come once in a lifetime to accelerate history.
And so, when our liberation history is told, when the story of June 16 and the Umkhonto Wesizwe June 16 Detachment is finally written, we should find there a great son of this community with his camera keen to write with his eye our journey to freedom.
And when we wish to touch him, we must visit the museum being planned at his place and touch his historic camera that he kept for all these years.
And we must tell our young people that if a Sam Nzima could hasten our march to freedom, so they too can do more with all the opportunities of modern digital technology and social media.
And we must tell them that to be truly great and to move mountains, they must cultivate love for their people.
And they can start by honouring their parents, mothers, the sick, and the elderly.
Let us seize this very moment to fight and defend our cherished ideal of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, just and prosperous society.
We must be able to say that although the perceptive eye and compassionate lens of the legendary Sam Nzima have gone to rest, we will be able to look our children in the eye and say we are a nation fully in tune with their fears and hopes.
May the soul of this giant rest in eternal peace!
I thank you.
Source: Government of South Africa