Celebrating SA’s 20 years of freedom with Dr Peter Magubane exhibition

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From the streets of the country’s townships to its hallways of power, Magubane has dedicated more than half a century to capturing the story of South Africa through his lens. First the struggle against apartheid as a fearless photojournalist, then South Africa’s transition to democracy as Madiba’s official photographer, and today, the cultural traditions and practices of the Rainbow Nation.

Dr Peter Magubane

Magubane has dedicated more than half a century to capturing the story of South Africa through his lens. First the struggle against apartheid as a fearless photojournalist, then South Africa’s transition to democracy as Madiba’s official photographer, and today, the cultural traditions and practices of the Rainbow Nation.

The Young Lions, Soweto

The first day of the Soweto uprising, 16 June 1976. Smiling children begin their peaceful march unaware of what lay ahead. Peter met the protesting students who did not want to be photographed. Peter said to them, “A struggle without documentation is no struggle”. He was then allowed to take these pictures of an event that was to change the course of South Africa’s history.

Naturally, some of the most poignant of these images were taken between the start of Magubane’s career in 1954 and the culmination of the struggle in 1994. It is these photographs that are on display as part of A struggle without documentation is no struggle – a famous phrase Magubane once told an angry mob during the 1976 Soweto uprising when they demanded he stop taking photos of the riots.

Steve Biko Inquest, Pretoria

Steve Biko’s wife, Ntsiki Mashalaba, in disgust at the Steve Biko inquest.

Sophiatown  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Protestors gather in Freedom Square, Sophiatown, in preparation for a march.

Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art and Museum Curator, says it is fitting that the Absa Gallery begins 2014 with this moving exhibition that documents just how far South Africa has come. “Twenty years of democracy is a major milestone, and one worthy of celebrating. But we must not forget from where we have come, and the struggle that was fought for the freedom our country enjoys today. Peter’s exhibition reminds us of this. It is significant not only because it allows us to reflect on this history but – as it was born out of a time of suppression – also learn from it. These were the pictures many of us did not see, and the stories we did not hear. Now we have the opportunity to do both, and that is very powerful.”

Sophiatown  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Protestors gather in Freedom Square, Sophiatown, in preparation for a march.

Reverend Frank Chikane and Reverend Beyers Naude in discussion, at Beyers Naude House

Reverend Frank Chikane and Reverend Beyers Naude in discussion, at Beyers Naude House
1980s Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Magubane embarked on his distinguished career in 1954 with Drum magazine, which took him to the heart of anti-apartheid defiance campaigns. After the Drum years he exhibited in Europe and then studied in the United States before returning home. In 1966 he joined the Rand Daily Mail newspaper, where he worked until 1980. It was during that time that he was arrested and spent 586 days – from June 1969 to 1971 – in solitary confinement. He was later banned as a photographer for five years. From the 1980s, he also worked for Time magazine. In 1990 Magubane was selected as Nelson Mandela’s official photographer to chronicle South Africa’s transition to a new political dispensation.

Miner 1957  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Bottom of the mine.

Forced Removals: Sophiatown to Meadowlands, Soweto (I) Mid to late 1950s  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Sophiatown was established in 1904. Before 1913 black South Africans had freehold rights, and they bought properties in the suburb. By the 1920s whites had moved out, leaving behind a vibrant community of blacks, coloured, Indians and Chinese.

Europeans Only  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

A young girl with her nanny. Many of the children in segregated South Africa were often looked after by the nanny.

Magubane became the first black South African to receive an award for photography – in the 1958 best pictures of the year contest. Since then he has received numerous accolades for his dedication and outstanding contribution to the world of photography. Among these are the Mother Jones-Leica Lifetime Achievement Award; the Martin Luther King Luthuli Award; a Fellowship from the Tom Hopkinson School of Journalism; and four Honorary Doctorates from various South African universities.

Disperse, University of the Witwatersrand 1970s  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Protests by academics and students from the University of the Witwatersrand. Police requesting demonstrators to disburse.

Demonstrations by University Academics and Students 1980s  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Demonstrations by University Academics and Students 1980s Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

A struggle without documentation is no struggle – a retrospective of Magubane’s work from 1954 to 1994 – ran from 18 February-13 March 2014 at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg. *The exhibition will then be hosted from 29 March-5 April 2014 at the Prins Vincent Building in Oudtshoorn as part of the Absa KKNK cultural festival, which also celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2014. Following this, the exhibition will travel to other parts of South Africa,” concludes Bayliss.

Demonstrations against the pass laws, Soweto Late 1950s  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Demonstrations against the pass laws, Soweto Late 1950s Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Daily train commuters from Soweto to Johannesburg 1970s  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Daily train commuters from Soweto to Johannesburg 1970s Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Child Labour: Bethal (I) Late 1950s  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Peter started taking photos of child labour in 1957 while at Drum and continued into the 1980s with the coal boys. He saw his work with child labour as part of one of the effects of apartheid, as black children had no rights.

Chief Albert Luthuli 1960 Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Chief Luthuli, first President of the ANC, leaves for Oslo to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was the first African, and the first person from outside Europe and the Americas, to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Backbone to the Struggle, Soweto  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

A grandmother sows her grandson’s pants. Dr Magubane spent a large portion of his career documenting the women of South Africa and the role they played behind the scenes.

Albertina Sisulu and Helen Joseph at a National Women’s Unity Meeting Late 1980’s Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Albertina Sisulu and Helen Joseph at a National Women’s Unity Meeting Late 1980’s Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

A Country Coming Together, Cape Town 11 February 1990  Photo by: Dr Peter Magubane

Cheering crowds wait to greet Nelson Mandela outside the City Hall in Cape Town on his first day of freedom. This was his first public speech in 27 year’s.

Dr Peter Magubane

Magubane embarked on his distinguished career in 1954 with Drum magazine, which took him to the heart of anti-apartheid defiance campaigns

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