Departed from the living, alive with his name

By Mhleli Mkhize.

This is my approach towards defining Nat Nakasa, a South African author and journalist who died in America in 1965. Nakasa’s remains were recently brought back to South Africa and are soon to be reburied at Chesterville in Durban on the 12th of September.

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 said that “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 journalist 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 selected to go to Harvard University in America for a fellowship to study journalism.

 “He was selected for this but unfortunately the apartheid government at the time 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, he was found dead underneath a window in New York City and was buried there. Miriam Makeba sang and Hugh Masikela played a trumpet for him at his funeral,” Kotze added.

 The South African Government through the Department of Arts and Culture in conjunction with the Offices of the Premier and the eThekwini Municipality are working together towards bringing his body back and very soon he will be re-buried in Chesterville.

This is a good thing to the journalism profession. Sadly most student journalists both second and third years don’t about Nakasa only the first years know because they have also visited the museum. Apart from journalist people I asked different people on the streets and they were clueless about who Nakasa was.

Sbongiseni Ngema a UNISA student studying Media and communication said that “ 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 men.”

There was a hero's welcome for the late writer at the airport in Durban a guard of honour made up of veterans from Umkhonto we Sizwe, the former military wing of the African National Congress, led the flag-draped coffin into a marquee, where further tributes were paid.