‘He is coming home’

2014-07-03 00:00

HE thought of himself as a “native from nowhere”, but now pioneering black journalist Nat Nakasa, who died in New York in the mid-sixties, is finally coming home.

At a press conference held at the Old Court House Museum in Durban yesterday, the national Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, announced that the reburial would take place during Heritage Month on September 13.

His remains will be brought back to South Africa in August prior to reburial in the Heroes’ Acre cemetery in his home town of Chesterville in the eThekwini Municipality.

Members of the Nakasa family were also present yesterday, including Nakasa’s only surviving sibling, Gladys Maphumulo. “It’s wonderful. We thank God he is coming home,” she said. “The family is so happy that he is returning to his homeland.”

The remains of journalist and short story writer Nakasa currently lie in the upstate New York Ferncliff Cemetery, alongside such heroes of the United States black civil rights movement as Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Paul Robeson.

Nakasa worked on Ilanga in Durban before going to Johannesburg where he worked on Golden City Post, Drum magazine and became the first black columnist on the Rand Daily Mail. He also founded the Classic magazine.

“He was part of the turbulent period of the fifties and sixties,” said Mthethwa. “Working with journalists and writers like Can Themba, Casey Motsisi and Lewis Nkosi, Nat Nakasa believed in freedom of speech and dedicated his writing to bridging the racial divide that then existed in South Africa.”

Mthethwa described how Nakasa referred to himself as occupying the “fringe country where one wasn’t judged by the colour of their skin”.

“There is no doubt that Nat Nakasa contributed to the attainment of the democracy we have today.”

When Nakasa received a prestigious Nieman Fellowship to study journalism at Harvard in 1964, he was refused a passport by the apartheid authorities and had to leave the country on an exit-only visa. This meant he would not be able to return.

At the age of 28, homesick and depressed in the U.S., Nakasa committed suicide, jumping from a high-rise building in New York, on July 14, 1965. His grave in Ferncliff Cemetery remained unmarked until 1995 when a simple headstone was placed there by the Nieman Foundation.

Mtethwa said returning Nakasa to South Africa “will not be the end of our mission”. Various initiatives are in process to see that “he remains part of our collective memory as a nation”.

Among these is an essay competition for schools where pupils will be asked to write about Nakasa.

• The exhibition Nat Nakasa: A Native of Nowhere is currently at the Old Court House Museum at 77 Samora Machel Street, Durban.

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