South African photographer Sam Nzima, whose iconic photograph (right) from a Soweto uprising in 1976 helped turn world opinion against apartheid, died Saturday in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, according to press reports. He was 83.

Nzima’s famous photograph showed a distraught 18-year-old named Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying the dead body of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, a student who had died after South African police opened fire at a student demonstration. Police killed hundreds of protesters, and demonstrations spread across South Africa.

South African authorities placed Nzima under house arrest for 19 months after publication of the photograph, which effectively ended his photojournalism career. But the impact of the photo was immutable: It brought the brutality of the apartheid regime to world attention. Eighteen years later, under growing international pressure and sustained protests at home, South Africa held its first free elections in 1994, and Nelson Mandela was elected president.

Nzima was born on a farm in 1934, in South Africa’s northeastern region. He went to Johannesburg as a young man, working first as a gardener, then as a switchboard operator. A self-taught photographer, he landed his first job as a newspaper photographer at The World, a Johannesburg daily, in 1968.

The World, which was a newspaper produced and read by blacks South Africans, was banned by the apartheid government in 1978. Other newspapers offered Nzima jobs afterwards, but he declined for fear of his life.

Nzima fought for years for control of copyright to his iconic photograph, and finally won the rights to it in 1998.


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