Alf Kumalo. Picture: THE TIMES
Alf Kumalo. Picture: THE TIMES

RENOWNED South African photographer Alf Kumalo, who made his name working for Drum Magazine has died in Johannesburg.

He died in hospital on Sunday, suffering from renal failure.

Former president Thabo Mbeki said he was saddened by Kumalo’s death.

“Alf Kumalo was more than a documentary photojournalist. He was, above all, one of South Africa’s eminent historians,” Mr Mbeki said in a statement.

Kumalo, 82, was born in Alexandra. After matriculating from the Wilberforce Institute in Evaton, he began working as a journalist and photographer for Bantu World in Johannesburg in 1951.

In 1956, he joined the Golden City Post as a permanent staffer before moving to Drum in the 1960s.

He covered the 1976 student uprising, the state of emergency during the 1980s, the unbanning of the liberation movements and the inauguration of South Africa’s first democratic government during a career that spanned more than 50 years.

He also closely documented Nelson Mandela’s life both before and after the former president’s imprisonment.

In his retirement he managed the Kumalo Photographic Museum and a professional photographic school in Diepkloof, Soweto.

In 2004, he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, an award recognising his contribution to documentary photography and journalism in South Africa.

Mr Mbeki said Kumalo’s life and work was part of a national treasure to be preserved for future generations. “No one could contradict the truth of what he captured so competently through the lens.”

He said Kumalo had been subjected to harassment during apartheid but had not succumbed to the pressure.

“Aware that the power of his narrative was unimpeachable, the apartheid regime subjected him to constant harassment in the hope that Kumalo, a humble and tenacious man of integrity, would abandon his work or sell his soul altogether. He did not,” said Mr Mbeki.

The African National Congress said Kumalo helped end apartheid through his art.

His work spoke volumes, providing the international community with evidence of the brutality of apartheid, spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement. As such, he helped mount international pressure against the apartheid regime.

Kumalo’s work on the life of Mandela would forever be cherished, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

“The centre worked closely with Bra’ Alf over the years on a variety of projects. We will cherish his rich work and remember his dedication to his craft as well as his ‘old world’ charm,” spokesman Sello Hatang said in a statement.

He added: “His career as a photographer, beginning in 1951, mirrored the rise in Mr Mandela’s political career, and Bra’ Alf photographed many of the historic events in which he played a key role.

“Hamba kahle, Bra’ Alf. We will miss you.”

With Sapa