South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Peter Magubane

(1932 - )

Peter Magubane was born in Vrededorp, now Pageview, a suburb in Johannesburg and grew up in Sophiatown. He became more attracted to photography after doing some photography using a Kodak Brownie as a schoolboy.

He was highly inspired by the works of great photographers of the day, especially those from Drum magazine who encouraged him to start working there as soon as the opportunity arose. It came in the form of an opening as a driver and messenger but he three months later he made his way into the hands of Jurgen Schadeberg who trained him to be his darkroom assistant until he was given his first assignment as field photographer to cover the 1955 ANC convention in Bloemfontein. In the 1950’s he covered many important political events, including the treason trials and demonstrations against the Pass Laws.

In 1958 he was honoured with being the first Black South African to win a photographic prize in the country – first and third prizes were awarded to him for Best Press pictures of the year. Between 1963 and 1964 he worked in London as a freelancer. During this time he held an exhibition of his work, becoming the first black South African to do this. After his freelance years, Magubane came back to South Africa in 1966 and started working for the Rand Daily Mail from 1967until 1980. In June of 1969 he was arrested while photographing protestors outside Winnie Mandela’s jail cell. After days of interrogation and solitary confinement, the charges were dropped a year later but he was banned from taking any photographs for five years.

In March of 1971 he was arrested again, spent 98 days in solitary confinement, then jailed for six months. When the banning order was lifted he resumed work for the Rand Daily Mail. From June through to August of 1976 he documented the Soweto student uprisings, was arrested then released in December of 1976. From 1978 until 1980 he was also employed as a correspondent for Time magazine. In 1980 he left South Africa for New York.

Coverage of the June 16 student uprisings of 1976 earned him worldwide acclaim and led to a number of international photographic and journalistic awards, one of which was the American National Professional Photographers Association Humanistic Award in 1986, in recognition of one of several incidents in which he put his camera aside and intervened to help prevent people from being killed. He also took photographs for several United Nations agencies, including the High Commission for Refugees and UNICEF, being particularly committed to exposing the plight of children and documenting traditional societies. His photographs have appeared in Life magazine, the New York Times, National Geographic and Time magazine.

In 1992 the Missouri School of Journalism presented him with the Missouri Honorary Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism for his lifelong coverage of apartheid. In 1997 Peter Magubane received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mother Jones Foundation. Peter Magubane received the 1997 Leica Lifetime achievement Award, given jointly by the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography and the Leica Camera Group. In recent years he has become an art photographer, documenting the surviving tribal ways in post-apartheid South Africa in colour. He has stopped doing news work, and is instead concentrating on documenting post apartheid culture and publishing books on this.




This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH