South African photographer, politcal detainee and banned person
Lives of Courage
Peter Magubane, one of South Africa’s most distinguished award winning photo-journalists was born in Vrededorp, now Pageview, a suburb in Johannesburg in 1932. He grew up and completed his high school in Sophiatown.
His interest in photography began as a schoolboy when he was given a Kodak Brownie camera. After completing his high school the young Magubane worked at a number of odd jobs but he wanted to work as a photojournalist. In 1954 he managed to get a job at Drum magazine as a driver and messenger. The highly motivated and resourceful Magubane landed a job as Jurgen Schadeberg’s, the magazine’s chief photographer and picture editor, darkroom assistant. A year later he was given his first photographic assignment to cover the 1955 African National Congress annual conference held in Bloemfontein. Joining Drum allowed Magubane to become part of the legendary Drum generation of black and white writers, artists, musicians and photographers.
Between 1955 and 1963, when he left Drum magazine, Magubane covered most of the major political events in the country and befriended the leading political figures of the liberation movements, in particular he was a close friend of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
In 1957 Magubane applied to join the all white Photographic Society of South Africa and his application was turned down. On the urging of Tom Hosking the then editor of Drum magazine the drum photographers spearheaded the formation of the Progressive Photographic Society and they organised the first non racial Salon at which Magubane won the first prize. He has over the years went on to won a large number of local and international awards and holds honorary doctorates from a number of South African and international universities.
In 1961 he held a one person exhibition making him one of the first photographer’s to exhibit in South Africa.
In 1963 he went abroad and worked as a freelance photographer. Magubane held his second exhibition of his work at the London School of Printing in 1964. In 1966 Magubane came back to South Africa and worked for the Rand Daily Mail until 1980.
In June 1969 he was arrested while photographing protesters outside the prison where Winnie Mandela and 21 other political activists were being detained. He was held in solitary confinement for 586 days and when he was released, he was served with a five year banning order which meant that he could not work for any publishing company and was forced to resign from the Rand Daily Mail.
In March 1971, he was arrested again, spent 98 days in solitary confinement and then jailed for six months for breaking his banning order. When the banning order expired in 1975 he resumed work for the Rand Daily Mail. From June through to August 1976 he documented the Soweto student uprisings and was assaulted and harassed by the police on a number of occasions. In August Magubane and other black journalists were detained for 123 days and his house was destroyed in a fire.
Magubane’s coverage of the 1976 June 16 student uprisings earned him worldwide acclaim and led to a number of international photographic and journalistic awards. Magubane became an international icon of the struggle of journalists and photographers working under repressive regimes. In 1986 he was awarded the American National Professional Photographers Association Humanistic Award in recognition of one of several incidents in which he put his camera aside and intervened to help prevent people from being killed.
From 1978 Magubane worked for Time Magazine and later freelanced for the United High Commission for Refugees and UNICEP. With the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 until he become president, Magubane was his official photographer. Magubane has published 17 books, two of which were banned by the Apartheid government,” Black As I Am” (with poetry by Zindzi Mandela),1978 and “Black Child” in 1982.
Since the establishment of the new democracy he has stopped covering news, and has concentrated on exhibitions and publishing work from his extensive archive done over a long and distinguished career as South Africa’s foremost photojournalist.