Photographer with the patience of a fisherman

2012-02-21 00:00

NEWS of the unexpected death of prominent KwaZulu-Natal photographer “Master” Siyabonga Mosunkutu has shocked colleagues in the media world, public servants and friends alike.

There are few mainstream newspapers in South Africa which have not published Mosunkutu’s pictures — City Press, Sowetan, The Witness, Isolezwe, Ilanga, Echo, UmAfrika – you name them, they have enjoyed the services of this hardworking award winner.

Although we got to work together as government communicators under the then MEC for Transport, Sibusiso Ndebele, I had known him for a long time as a photographer of note when we were both employed by our respective newspaper houses. He then moved on to the Office of the Premier when the then KZN premier Ndebele left the Transport Department. He was to later continue working under the current KZN premier, Dr Zweli Mkhize, until he died at the weekend after a sudden illness. He had previously worked for a Gauteng premier as well.

Mosunkutu was daring and action-crazy. He was totally in love with his tool, the stills camera, and carried it like a gun — with pride and dignity. On duty, Mosunkutu exhibited an unparalleled capacity for patience and attention to detail.

One of our colleagues in government communications, former Witness newspaper designer and local visual artist, Hamraj Gunpath, has a better idea about where Mosunkutu’s patience came from.

He shared a fishing interest with “Mangamanga” (The Lying One, as we affectionately called him) and knows that patience comes from fishing.

Mosunkutu was an ardent fisherman, who would bring really big fish for colleagues and himself from any river or dam, and could wait patiently for his best shot as a photographer. He would wait for an event to finish as he searched for the best shot of a political leader or an ordinary person in action. He would also capture pictures of ordinary folk doing extraordinary or funny things.

The uMkhosi wuMhlanga ceremony, which is graced by uHlanga loMhlabathi, his Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini, to promote virginity and discipline among young girls, will no doubt have been dealt a heavy blow by his demise.

And the Shembe church, which he joined recently after experimenting with Islam, will surely miss his brilliant coverage.

But Mosunkutu will be missed most for his love of people. There is practically no one he could not hold a conversation with on any matter, true or not.

He loved law and order — I think he secretly fancied himself as a police officer or soldier. He sort of experimented with playing at being a traffic officer, and was the official photographer of the KZN Department of Transport. I thought other colleagues were lying when they told me that he was in the habit of doing this, and of course he would not be wearing a traffic police uniform when he did it.

But one day, my turn to experience his “naughty” side came. We were driving from a government event, when Mosunkutu spotted a mini-bus taxi driver who had failed to stop at a red robot. He followed the taxi, stopped the driver and showed him a Transport Department premises entrance tag, and told him that he had the power to arrest him. I had to protest that he was taking too long reprimanding his “suspect” before he could let the errant driver go.

I was to later hear that one such unlucky taxi driver was ordered by Mosunkutu to follow him to the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) offices at Mkondeni. As they were about to enter the RTI premises, Mosunkutu retracted and told the taxi driver that he was excused.

A playful and fun-loving character, Mosunkutu could stir up controversy for himself and others. He was certainly not easy to manage, precisely because he enjoyed a direct relationship with authorities on account of the sheer power of his work. Talented, opinionated, well-travelled, and noticeable, he will be sorely missed.

Hamba kahle ‘Mfana ka Gogo!’

• Simphiwe Mkhize writes in his personal capacity.


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