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He was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in 1964 to study journalism at Harvard College in the USA. However, the apartheid government rejected his application for a passport. As a result, he was forced to leave South Africa on an exit permit which meant that he could not return.
Nakasa soon found that racism existed in America as well, albeit more subtly. Nakasa didn't like New York and soon moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he spent his time at Harvard steeped in the somber business of education.
Although he learnt a lot, he was isolated and became homesick. He became depressed at being exiled and died after a fall from a high rise building in New York.
He wrote articles for several newspapers after leaving Harvard, appeared in the television film The Fruit of Fear and was planning to write a biography of Miriam Makeba. But two days before his death he told a friend, I can't laugh anymore and when I can't laugh I can't write. 
A headstone placed by the Nieman Foundation 30 years later simply reads:
Nathaniel Nakasa May 12, 1937 – July 14, 1965. Journalist, Nieman Fellow, South African.
— 1038 (the tombstone number), .
A project was begun in May 2014 to return his body to South Africa. His remains were returned to South Africa on 19 August 2014. “This will hopefully bring closure to a horrific chapter that has remained a blight in our history for almost 50 years. His homecoming is the restoration of his citizenship and dignity as a human being,” said Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s minister of arts and culture.“
He was re-buried on 13 September 2014 near his childhood home in Chesterville, a township outside Durban. The ceremony was preceded by a procession of his coffin through Chesterville before his remains were interred at Chesterville’s Heroes Acre.
- The World of Nat Nakasa: selected writings of the late Nat Nakasa/edited by Essop Patel; with an introduction by Nadine Gordimer, Ravan Press, 1971, ISBN 0-86975-050-X
- Good-looking Corpse: World of Drum - Jazz and Gangsters, Hope and Defiance in the Townships of South Africa, Mike Nicol, Secker & Warburg, 1991, ISBN 0-436-30986-6
- "Nat Nakasa reburial: South African writer's remains return". BBC News. 19 August 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
- "Background on Nat's Life". SA National Editors Forum. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
- "Ndazana Nathaniel Nakasa". S A history. Retrieved 2014-08-21.
- "US bid to repatriate Nakasa's remains". Times Live. 18 May 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
- "After Decades in Exile, a South African Writer’s Remains Will Head Home". New York Times. 10 Aug 2014. Retrieved 10 Aug 2014.
- "Nat Nakasa ‘challenged the apartheid system through the pen’". City Press. Retrieved 14 September 2014.