Peter Magubane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Peter Magubane
Peter Sexford Magubane

(1932-01-18)18 January 1932
Died1 January 2024(2024-01-01) (aged 91)
South Africa
NationalitySouth African
Occupation(s)Photographer, Anti-apartheid activist

Peter Sexford Magubane OMSS (18 January 1932 – 1 January 2024) was a South African photographer and anti-apartheid activist. He was also the personal photographer of President Nelson Mandela.

Early life[edit]

Peter Sexford Magubane was born on January 18, 1932, in Vrededorp (now Pageview, a suburb of Johannesburg), and grew up in Sophiatown.[1] He began taking photographs using a Kodak Brownie box camera as a schoolboy.[2]

In 1954 he read a copy of Drum, a magazine known for its reporting of urban blacks and the effects of apartheid. "They were dealing with social issues that affected black people in South Africa. I wanted to be part of that magazine."[3]

Magubane started employment at Drum as a driver. After six months of odd jobs, he was given a photography assignment under the mentorship of Jürgen Schadeberg, the chief photographer. He borrowed a camera and covered the 1955 ANC convention. "I went back to the office with good results and never looked back."[citation needed]

Being on assignment in the early years was not easy, as he recalled: "We were not allowed to carry a camera in the open if the police were involved, so I often had to hide my camera to get the pictures I wanted. On occasion I hid my camera in a hollowed-out Bible, firing with a cable release in my pocket. At another time, at a trial in Zeerust from which the press were banned, I hid my Leica 3G in a hollowed-out loaf of bread and pretended to eat while I was actually shooting pictures; when the bread went down, I bought milk and hid the camera in the carton. And I got away with it. You had to think fast and be fast to survive in those days."[4]

Magubane photographed most of South Africa's historic moments, such as Sharpeville in 1960 and also Mandela's Rivonia trial in 1964. He later recalled: "I had never seen so many dead people." His editor wanted to know why he had not taken any close-ups. Magubane then "decided I was not going to get emotionally involved, or at least not until after I have done my work."[5]

Middle and later years[edit]

Magubane left Drum to become a freelancer.[citation needed] In 1967, he was employed by the Rand Daily Mail. In 1969, he was sent to photograph a demonstration outside Winnie Mandela's jail cell. He was arrested, interrogated and then put in solitary confinement. The charges were dropped in 1970. However, Magubane was banned from photography for five years. In 1971 he was imprisoned again and spent 98 days in solitary confinement and then spent six months in jail.[citation needed]

Following his release, Mugabane was assigned to cover the Soweto riots which occurred from June through to August 1976. He was arrested, beaten up and had his nose broken.[citation needed] Eventually, he was released at the end of 1976.[6] The series of pictures he took brought him international recognition and acclaim. In February 1977, he would win an excellence in journalism award, sponsored by Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery and presented by Walter Cronkite.[6] This led to other opportunities. He worked on assignments for Time magazine, the United Nations and for Sports Illustrated photographing a series about the South African teenage runner Zola Budd.[4]

In 1985, Magubane spent time in hospital recovering from buckshot wounds received when he was caught in police crossfire at a funeral near Johannesburg.[7]

In 2006, the South African Post Office issued a miniature sheet, commemorative envelope and a special canceller on National Women's Day.[8] This commemorates the march on 9 August 1956 when 20,000 women from all parts of South Africa staged a second march on the Union Buildings to protest against the pass laws.[8] They left petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures at the Prime Minister's door. The photograph used on the miniature sheet was taken by Peter Magubane during the march and features some of the women who led the 1956 march: Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Rahima Moosa.[8]

Magubane ceased working in photojournalism and later concentrated on art photography. He documented the surviving tribal ways in post-apartheid South Africa in colour. These photographs have been published under the African Heritage Series banner.[citation needed]

Magubane died from cancer on 1 January 2024, 17 days before his 92nd birthday.[9][10]


  • Black As I Am, Zindzi Mandela and Peter Magubane; foreword by Andrew Young, Los Angeles Guild of Tutors Press, 1978, ISBN 0-89615-001-1
  • Magubane's South Africa; with a foreword by Ambassador Andrew Young, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, distributed by Random House. 1978, ISBN 0-436-27120-6
  • Soweto, photographed by Peter Magubane; text, Marshall Lee; contributing and picture editor, Dawn Lindberg, Cape Town: Don Nelson, 1978, ISBN 0-909238-32-4 (2nd ed. 1983)
  • Soweto Speaks, Jill Johnson, photographs by Peter Magubane, Johannesburg: A. D. Donker, 1979, ISBN 0-949937-63-0
  • Black Child, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1982, ISBN 0-394-51445-9
  • 16 June: The Fruit of Fear, Braamfontein: Skotaville, 1986, ISBN 0-947009-13-2
    • Soweto: The Fruit of Fear, Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1986, ISBN 0-86543-040-3 (reissue of 16 June: The Fruit of Fear)
  • Soweto: Portrait of a City, photography by Peter Magubane; text by David Bristow, Stan Motjuwadi; [foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu]. London: New Holland, 1990 ISBN 1-85368-051-6
  • Women of South Africa: their fight for freedom, photographs by Peter Magubane, text by Carol Lazar. Boston MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1993 ISBN 0-8212-1928-6
  • Nelson Mandela, Man of Destiny: a pictorial biography, Cape Town: Don Nelson, 1996, ISBN 1-86806-123-X
  • Vanishing Cultures of South Africa: changing customs in a changing world, Cape Town: Struik, 1998, ISBN 1-86825-967-6 (The Xhosa—The Zulu—The Ndebele—The Venda—The Tsonga—The Basotho—The Tswana—The Pedi—The Ntwana—The San)
  • African Renaissance, Cape Town: Struik, 2000, ISBN 1-86872-413-1
  • African Heritage Series:
  • Soweto, Peter Magubane and Charlene Smith, Cape Town: Struik, 2001, ISBN 1-86872-584-7
  • African Heritage Series:
    • Arts and Crafts, Peter Magubane, text by Sandra Klopper, Cape Town: Struik, 2001, ISBN 1-86872-836-6
  • The BaNtwane: Africa's Undiscovered People, Peter Magubane, text by Sandra Klopper, Cape Town: Struik, 2001, ISBN 1-86872-564-2
  • AmaNdebele, Peter Magubane, text by Sandra Klopper, Sunbird, 2005, ISBN 1-919938-06-0

Film and video[edit]

  • Dying to Tell the Story (1998) – Magubane appeared as himself in the documentary[citation needed]
  • Peter Magubane Photographer (1999) – BBC Millennium diaries. "Having recorded the turbulent events in South Africa over the past 45 years on camera he tells of the journey to his homeland of today".[11]


Solo exhibitions[edit]

Group exhibitions[edit]



  1. ^ "Peter Sexford Magubane", South African History Online.
  2. ^ Hudson, Berkley (2009). Sterling, Christopher H. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Journalism. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE. pp. 1060-67. ISBN 978-0-7619-2957-4.
  3. ^ Cook, John (1 May 1997). "One-Man Truth Squad". Mother Jones. Retrieved 7 May 2007.
  4. ^ a b Barbieri, Fabio (7 May 2003). "Peter Magubane : profiles". Contemporary Africa Database. Archived from the original on 5 November 2004. Retrieved 7 May 2007.
  5. ^ Weil, Louis (26 February 1990). "From the Publisher". Time. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2007.
  6. ^ a b "A South African Black Receives Top Prize for News Photography". The New York Times. 23 February 1977. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  7. ^ Meyer, John (12 May 2005). "A Letter from the Publisher". Time. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d "50th Anniversary of the Women's March to the Union Buildings". Customer Services. SA Post Office. Archived from the original on 14 March 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2007.
  9. ^ "Legendary photographer Dr Peter Magubane passes away". SABC News. 1 January 2024. Retrieved 1 January 2024.
  10. ^ "Peter Magubane obituary". The Times. 19 January 2024. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  11. ^ "Peter Magubane". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 4 May 2007.
  12. ^ Peter Magubane in Artfacts.
  13. ^ "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life", International Center of Photography.
  14. ^ a b "Peter Magubane", Who's Who Southern Africa.

External links[edit]