For his excellent contribution in photo journalism and placing the brutality of the Apartheid police in the international spotlight, Nzima was conferred with the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze
Masana Sam Nzima was born on the 8th of August 1934 in Lillydale, a small village in Bushbuck Ridge, Limpopo Province, Sam grew up on the farm where his father worked and the family lived. While at school Sam had a teacher who had a camera and he became fascinated by the concept of pictures coming out of a box, so he bought himself a Kodak Box Brownie. During the school holidays he would go to the Kruger National Park and charge people to get their photographs taken by him. On the farm there was a system where at a certain age the young boys would be set to work. When Sam was in Standard 6, now grade 8, it was decided by the farmer that he was old enough to start work. After nine months of doing manual labour he ran away to Johannesburg where he found work as a gardener at Heiningham. He continued his schooling by doing correspondence courses through various colleges. In 1956, soon after he completing his high school course he left Heiningham to work at the Savoy Hotel as a waiter. At the Savoy he met and befriended a man named Patrick Rikotso who also worked there. Patrick taught him more about photography and Sam would sell domestic workers portraits he had taken of them on their day off. When he left the Savoy he went to the Chelsea Hotel in Hillbrow and here he was switchboard operator for anther eight years.
While at the Chelsea Hotel he used to buy the Rand Daily Mail and read articles by Allister Sparks. These inspired him to become a photojournalist and he learnt to develop his writing skills by reading these articles and then emulating the writing style. Once he was confident enough with his writing and photography he went home to Bushbuck Ridge, by now the whole family had left the old farm and were living elsewhere. He photographed and wrote a story on a bus owner in named Stick Nyalungu. He went to The World newspaper in Johannesburg and asked the editor if he was willing to publish his story. It was published as a feature article and he started freelancing for The World. In 1968 Nzima was offered a fulltime job as a photojournalist by The World and he accepted. However, he started concentrating more on his photography and less on writing as the pressure of writing and photographing for a daily newspaper started weighing him down. Sam Nzima is famous for the photograph of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying Hector Pieterson's body away from the rioting crowd at the student protest on June 16 1976. When Nzima took the photograph of Hector Peterson he was still working for The World and was covering the strike for the paper. Towards the end of 1976 the South African Security Police started targeting and going after students and journalists, as well as photographers, who had been at the June 16 uprising and this carried on into 1977. A friend of his who was a member of the Johannesburg police at the time informed Sam that he was a target too. Sam then decided to go back to Lillydale. He left that very night, thereafter his wife sold their house in Chawela, Soweto, and moved to Lillydale to be with him. After going back to Lillydale he set up a bottle store. Soon a member of the security branch from Nelspruit came to his bottle store and told him that they knew what he had done. He was told that he was not allowed to leave his home for any reason and if he did he would be arrested. To ensure that he complied they checked up on him every Friday for three months.
The World newspaper was banned in 1978. The Star and The Rand Daily Mail newspapers wanted Sam to join them but he was unable to do so for fear for his life. In 1979 he was appointed by Chief Minister Hudson Ntsanwisi to become a member of legislative assembly in the homeland Gazankulu. After years of fighting for the rights to his photograph of Hector Peterson and Mbuyisa Makhubu Sam Nzima was finally rewarded in 1998 when The Star newspaper finally gave him copyright. The image was exhibited in Germany along with photographs by Alf Kumalo and Peter Magubane in 2001. Nowadays he runs a school of photography in Bushbuck Ridge after being donated a black and white enlarger by The Sowetan. He also serves on the Bushbuck Ridge municipal council and the council of Bohlabela District. Sam Nzima is still lives in Lillydale, Bushbuck Ridge.
• Bushbuckridge Local Municipality. [Available at] https://www.bushbuckridge.gov.za/ online. [Accessed on 7 May 2011]
• Anon (unknown), Sam Nzima, Available at https://www.sahistory.org.za online. [Accessed on 7 May 2011]
Dear friends of SAHO
South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.
SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.
Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.