© Penguin Books/photo by Alf Kumalo

Photographer Alfred Kumalo, who documented the brutalities of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the career of Nelson Mandela, its first freely elected president, died in Johannesburg on October 21. The cause of death was renal failure, AP reports. He was 82.

The African National Congress,  South Africa’s ruling party, said in a statement: “South Africa has lost a self-taught giant in the media field who still bears the scars of torture and mental scars of continuous detentions by the apartheid security forces.” South African President Jacob Zuma’s statement, reported by AFP, says of Kumalo: “He was a meticulous photographer and his work will live on forever as a monument to the people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of colonial oppression and apartheid.”

Born in Johannesburg, Kumalo, who was known as Alf, began his photography career as a freelancer for Bantu World. He later shot for Drum magazine, the renowned magazine of black life, culture and politics, including the struggle against the apartheid regime. Despite the government’s frequent imprisonment of journalists, he documented student strikes, the Treason Trial of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and others and the Rivonia Trial, in which Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. A family friend of Mandela’s, Kumalo documented his life at home and in public, including his wedding to Winnie Mandela, his inauguration in 1994 and his years as president, accompanying Mandela on his first trip to America.

In 1990 Kumalo published Mandela: Echoes of an Era and in 2010 published 8115: A Prisoner’s Home, named for the house at 8115 Vilakasi Street in Soweto where Mandela lived from 1946 until his imprisonment, and to which he returned in 1990 after his release.

While in London on assignment for Drum, he interviewed a young prize fighter named Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), and photographed him winning the Heavyweight Championship in his fight with George Foreman in Kinshasa (in then Zaire) in 1974. His photos were published in The Observer, The New York Times, The Sunday Independent and other publications.

Kumalo was awarded The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in 2004 for his contribution to creative arts in South Africa. In recent years he opened a photography school in Diepkloof Soweto, offering ninth-month photography courses to train disadvantaged young photographers.


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