Bra Alf’s legacy in jeopardy

2017-11-19 05:58
Alf Kumalo’s son Sizwe examines some of the tattered remains of his father’s work. Picture: Eugene Goddard

Alf Kumalo’s son Sizwe examines some of the tattered remains of his father’s work. Picture: Eugene Goddard

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SA mourns Alf Khumalo

2012-10-22 11:46

South Africa is mourning the death of world-acclaimed photographer Alf Kumalo who died at 82 of suspected kidney failure yesterday. Watch.WATCH

One of South Africa’s most important photographic archives, containing the lion’s share of pictures taken by Alf Kumalo, has been lying in legal limbo since the legendary Drum photographer died from prostate cancer in October 2012.

Kumalo, famous for documenting iconic moments from the country’s struggle against apartheid, capped his long career with a school and pictorial repository he opened in 2002 at his former home in Diepkloof.

Kumalo photographed and documented many historic moments in recent South African history. These include the Treason Trial, the Rivonia Trial, the Student Uprising of 1976 and the Codesa talks.

With the help of Italian NGO money, the Alf Kumalo Museum flourished for its first few years, successfully training young black photographers from downtrodden areas as per its founder’s wishes.

But when Movi Mondo withdrew its funding about three years after the museum was launched, it set in motion a period of financial collapse that finally led to the museum’s closure shortly after Kumalo’s death.

Twice burgled and used as a drug den, most of the museum’s precious contents were saved when Kumalo’s executor, Tebogo Kwape, intervened.

The archive, consisting mainly of thousands of black and white negatives, a camera, and several important prints, were all removed to the offices of Murphy Kwape Maritz Attorneys in Randburg.

Since then, it’s been a struggle to get anything done, claims Sizwe, Kumalo’s youngest son from his first marriage and de facto caretaker of the museum.

“I really don’t know why it’s taking so long to wrap up the estate,” Sizwe said.

'Complex family dynamics'

It’s been more than five years with no indication from Kwape when the estate might be finalised. Sizwe, his two brothers and three sisters were named as owners of the museum and the property it occupies, according to Kumalo’s will.

The responsibility of managing the museum fell to Mzilikazi “Mzi” Kumalo, the apartheid photographer’s stepson from his second marriage.

Sizwe said one of the reasons for the museum’s initial closing, apart from forced entry, theft and the threat a leaking roof posed to Kumalo’s material legacy, was because of “complex family dynamics”.

“I explained to Tebogo [Kwape] after my father died that there are two families here and we’re not having a good time ... there may be conflicts along the way.

“We’re not talking to Sizwe,” is all Mzi had to say of the relationship he and his sister have with their stepbrother.

Sizwe, in turn, indicated that for the sake of wrapping up the estate, the two families were tolerating one another. In the meantime, the two stepbrothers are united in their dissatisfaction with the slow pace of Kwape’s handling of the estate.

When visiting the site earlier this week, Sizwe looked around at the scattered photographic remains, much of them damaged and derelict, and said he doesn’t know why Kwape didn’t remove everything when he took the negatives, prints and camera.

He said he doesn’t think Kwape knew how to deal with the photographic material.

Lying discarded on the floor are water-ruined prints and the darkroom is a mess of enlargers, loops and other equipment.

“I used to trust him. I don’t any more,” Sizwe said.

Mzi agrees: “I don’t think he [Kwape] understands photographic estates.”

When asked whether Kumalo’s valuable archive of old negatives is properly stored, Kwape replied: “We’re keeping it as we found it – in boxes.”

Reminded that extra precaution should be taken with how negatives are preserved to protect them from potential heat and condensation, Kwape threw the phone down.

Sizwe said that Kwape initially blamed delays surrounding finalisation of the estate on Umnotho weSizwe Group, the mining investment company in which Kumalo was a non-active director. He told another publication that there was a holdup regarding Kumalo’s shares in the company. He was quoted as saying that Umnotho weSizwe was “giving him the run-around”.

However, on Friday Umnotho CEO Vusi Nkosi confirmed Sizwe’s version that there were complications around the shares and how it could possibly affect the estate, but this had now been resolved.

“The shares in question were ‘bought back’ as long ago as 2014 or 2015,” Nkosi said.

Images 'part of our national heritage'

According to Sizwe, the last time they heard anything from Kwape he told the family that the SA Revenue Service was responsible for holding up the estate’s finalisation.

Kwape added that they have been trying to explain to Sizwe “the number of frustrations we have had with regard to the City of Johannesburg’s rate offices, the SA Receiver of Revenue and the one particular property at Everton [sic] which was difficult to wind up”.

Nevertheless, Sizwe said he was recently advised by another attorney to consider getting the Master of the High Court to have Kwape removed as executor.

“But for that, all my father’s children will have to stand together,” Sizwe said.

In the interests of a smooth resolution to the estate, Mzi has chosen a “hands-off” approach.

Sizwe said he still gets requests for pictures from his father’s archive, particularly for popular images Kumalo took of former president Nelson Mandela, as well as photographs of the Sharpeville massacre, musician Miriam Makeba performing in New York and the ANC’s treason trial.

“Even one of Madiba playing with his dog is often asked for,” Sizwe said.

And yet, because the archive and its legal ownership is still in limbo, all requests for pictures from Kumalo’s vast body of work have to be sent to Kwape. Because of this, not a cent has been generated form Kumalo’s archive since his death in 2012.

“It’s a real pity,” Sizwe said. “My father’s images are part of our national heritage.”

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