Humphrey Phakade “Pax” Magwaza

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Biographical information


Actor, photographer, activist and member of Afrapix

First name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
4 April 1962
Location of birth: 
PLamontville, Durban townships, Natal
Date of death: 
9 October 2007

Pax was born on the 4th of April 1962 in Lamontville, one of the oldest Durban townships. He attended Lamontville High School and after completing his matric in 1982 he became interested in Drama. As a political activist he was very involved with the creation of the now famous play “Asinamali” by Mbongeni Ngema. He was one of the growing number of Durban’s youth activists who were recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) - the ANC armed wing. Pax was arrested in 1984 in the wake of popular resistance against Apartheid after the assassination of Msizi Dube, the Lamontville community leader.

He was charged together with others for the murder of Sash Kanyile and sentenced to 8 years imprisonment. In late 1985 he was granted the right to appeal his conviction and released on bail. Immediately on his release he approached Omar Badsha, a founding member of Afrapix and a fellow activist whose work he had seen and admired, to take him in as an apprentice photographer. Pax started working on a documentary project on Lamontville and was invited to become a member of Afrapix.

In 1986 he lost his appeal and went back to serve his prison sentence. He lodged another appeal to the Supreme Court Appellate Division and was again released on bail. He continued working as a photographer and member of Afrapix. In 1988 he lost his second appeal. This time he decided to flee to the “Independent” Transkei Homeland. After representation by his attorneys an agreement was reached with the authorities that if he would return to South Africa and serve a full month, his sentence would be regarded as completed. On his release in 1989 he moved to Pietermaritzburg and continued his career as a photographer. He later applied for and was granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Pax married Marie Odendaal in March 1990. Although they divorced in 1999, they continued as friends and Marie persistently supported Pax in various ways through his prolonged periods of unemployment.

In addition to acting in and directing plays Pax trained as an Arts Administrator, and worked with various community arts groups. He mentored many young actors and other artists over the years. More recently he pursued fundraising work as an HIV/AIDS activist and educator with the Jambo Arts Centre and the Department of Health in Pietermaritzburg.
His repeated incarcerations and other struggles took their toll on his health and he suffered mild strokes from hypertension. He also developed diabetes. He died, apparently of a seizure, on 9 October and was buried in Lamontville on 13 October.

His firstborn, Delani, was 25 years old.  Pax and Marie had two sons, Mayibuye and Ntsikelelo.

Last updated : 02-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011