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Remembering Peter Magubane, a South African Photographer Who Captured 40 Years of Apartheid

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by Paulina Isaac

January 8, 2024

Peter Magubane has sadly passed away at age 91.

The South African photographer is best known for capturing 40 years of apartheid in the country and was entrusted with documenting Nelson Mandela’s first years of freedom after his release from prison.

Magubane died Monday, according to the South African National Editors’ Forum. The editors’ forum said he was a “legendary photojournalist,” and the South African government said Magubane “covered the most historic moments in the liberation struggle against apartheid.”

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His daughter, Fikile Magubane, told SABCNews, “My father passed peacefully today, at midday — he was not well, he’s passed on peacefully. My father would have been 92 on the 18th of January.”

She added, “We will remember him as a very hard-working, conscientious photographer. He was very passionate about his work, everything else would stop when it comes to his work. We are very pained with the passing of our father.”

During his years photographing the South African apartheid, he captured 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.

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Magubane was targeted by the apartheid government after photographing a protest outside a jail where Mandela’s then-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was being held in 1969. He was jailed and kept in solitary confinement for more than a year and a half. Magubane was also imprisoned numerous times during his career and endured a five-year ban that prevented him from working or leaving his home without permission from the police.

Ultimately, he had the choice to leave South Africa to go into exile because of the apartheid regime, but instead, he chose to stay and continue photographing.

“I said, ‘No I will remain here. I will fight apartheid with my camera,'” he said in a recent interview with national broadcaster SABC.

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(Cover photo: Peter Magubane/Photo by SA History Online)

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