DEPARTED FROM THE LIVING, ALIVE WITH HIS NAME
By: Mhleli Mkhize
This is my way of defining Nat Nakasa- a South African journalist and remarkable author that died while living his own legacy. Nakasa’s remains were recently brought back to South Africa and reburied at Chesterville in Durban last weekend.
According to Steve Kotze, a researcher for eThekwini Municipality, Nakasa first worked as a journalist at Ilanga before being employed at Drum Magazine in the late 1950’s. Kotze said, “Nat Nakasa went to Johannesburg and really became a very important journalist because he was interested in the vision of South Africa which we recognize today. He was very interested in non-racialism and finding a place for all South Africans to be equal and wrote about that.”
Kotze says Nakasa was not politically active and he was not affiliated to any political party. He wanted newspapers and journalists to also be part of transforming South Africa. In one of his writings, Nakasa writes about a meeting of Afrikaner politicians in Johannesburg which he attended and told them that ‘the Great Trek is also my history’.
This is similar to what former President Thabo Mbeki said in his famous speech, ‘I am an African’.
In that speech he identified himself with Indian and White South Africans. Kotze says Nakasa was one of the first African journalists to work at the Rand Daily Mail where he wrote lots of stories which exposed exploitation on young children working in farms as it was illegal even during that era. In 1963 Nakasa was given a Nierman Fellowship to study journalism at Harvard University in America.
“At the time the apartheid government did not like black journalists. They were worried that he will go there and write things about South Africa that they could not control. So they told him that if he leaves South Africa he should never come back,” said Kotze.
Nakasa did a very good job working for the New York Times in the States. He became very depressed because South Africa was home and knowing that he can never return to his life was heart breaking.
Sadly in July 1965, Nakasa died after falling from a building in New York in an apparent suicide. Miriam Makeba sang and Hugh Masikela played a trumpet for him at his funeral. The South African Government through the
Department of Arts and Culture in conjunction with the Offices of the Premier and the eThekwini Municipality bringing his remains home and he was peacefully reburied fifty years later in Durban Chesterville’s Heroes Acre Cemetery on Saturday.
This is a good thing to the journalism profession. Sadly most journalism students didn’t know much about Nakasa but a few first year journalism students a whole lot more about him after a few visits to the museum. Apart from journalism students even random people from the streets didn’t know about Nakasa until the return of his remains was broadcasted all over the country.
Sbongiseni Ngema, a UNISA student studying Media and Communication said, “I didn’t know about the men and still didn’t find much interest in knowing about him up until I heard about his life and actually saw his coffin televised then and only then did I see the history behind the man.”