South Africa

Hamba kahle ‘Bra Peter’


A final salute of clicking cameras around his coffin, clapping to a classic jazz tune by music legend Abigail Kubeka, a collage of June 1976 Soweto photographs and moving eulogies – these moments marked the sendoff for acclaimed press photographer Dr Peter Magubane yesterday.

Bra Peter remembered fondly at his funeral service

The veteran lensman – who was fondly known as “Bra Peter” and renowned for decades of using his camera to document and fight apartheid – was remembered fondly at his funeral service.

Amid the sound of heavy rain on the roof of the Bryanston Methodist Church, a sombre atmosphere gripped the emotion-charged service with speakers – from Magubane’s grandchildren and former colleagues, to President Cyril Ramaphosa – sharing anecdotes about the 91-year-old who was laid to rest at the Fourways Memorial Park Cemetery yesterday.

A thorn in the flesh of the apartheid government, Magubane documented South Africa’s history from apartheid to democracy.

ALSO READ: ‘Peter Magubane would not put his camera down despite attempts to break his spirit’ – Ramaphosa

His pictures were witness to some of the defining moments in SA’s history. They earned him worldwide accolades amid the wrath of state repression, police beatings, detentions at home and being shot 17 times.

His tactics to evade apartheid police detection

In paying tribute to Magubane, speakers remembered the tactics he used to evade police detection to take photos of incidents exposing apartheid’s injustices.

These included making use of a bread loaf, the internal pages of the Bible and dressing up like a tramp.

“Nothing could dissuade my father from getting his pictures,” said his daughter Fikile Magubane. “He used all kinds of tricks to disguise himself from being detected by police – he was a renegade.

ALSO READ: RIP Peter Magubane: The lensman who fought evil

“I remember when he disguised himself as a neglected old man. We were on our way to join a student demonstration in Pretoria in 1976 when we were stopped by police in Casspirs (four-wheeled, apartheid-era anti-riot vehicles) between Orlando East and Noodgesig.

“We saw police handling an old man and forcing him into the Casspir to remove the many layers of clothes on his body.

“When I cast my eyes downwards to his shoes, I saw that they were my father’s shoes.

“No-one seemed to recognise the old man except me. I had to hold myself back, to avoid blowing his cover, although I was terrified about what they would do to him.

ALSO READ: Ramaphosa pays tribute to legendary photographer Dr Peter Magubane

“When they eventually found his camera under the many layers of clothing, they took his film.”

Former president Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele said Magubane would be remembered as “an outstanding patriot, a liberation fighter who chronicled our history and struggle”.

SA Council of Churches general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said: “Justice and righteousness are some of the attributes of God. Two of these accentuated by Peter Magubane were love and creativity.”

‘Peter Magubane’s images exposed lies’

Said Ramaphosa: “At a time when an unjust regime acted with impunity and callous disregard for human life, Peter Magubane’s images exposed its lies.

ALSO READ: South African anti-apartheid photographer Peter Magubane dies aged 91

“The apartheid regime did not care much for the lives it was extinguishing, but it cared a great deal about its image – especially about how it was portrayed to the rest of the world.

“Peter Magubane’s images and those of his peers, upended Hendrik Verwoerd’s great lie that apartheid was benign benevolence – a system of the separate but equal and so-called good neighbourliness.”