South African photographer Sam Nzima, has passed away at the age of 83.
Nzima was known for capturing the iconic image of a black high school student who, during the Soweto Uprising, picked up the dying 13-year-old Hector Pieterson and, under gunfire of the apartheid police, carried him away from the chaos.
The uprising took place on June 16th, 1976 and involved an estimated 20,000 students from Sowetan schools who begin demonstrations and protest after Afrikaans (the language of the apartheid regime) became the language of instruction in local schools. The government reacted with brutal force, killing hundreds of its citizens.
Nzima’s photograph became a symbol of both the event itself and the white minority regime’s brutality in South Africa. Time Magazine listed it as one of the 100 most influential images of all time.
Nzima’s photo was published on the front pages of major newspapers around the world. After publication, Nzima was harassed by the apartheid regime, causing him to leave both The World newspaper (where he was a staff photographer at the time) and Johannesburg for his hometown of Lilydale. He was eventually placed under house arrest for 19 months for taking photos of the uprising.
Nzima initially regretted taking the photo due to the fact that it killed his photojournalism career. Eventually, however, due to its lasting effect and influence, he became proud of it.
For years, Nzima struggled for the copyright of the image due to the fact that the institution that he worked for at the time believed that they owned the rights to the photo. In 1998, he finally won the long standing legal battle.
The iconic photo can now be found at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in South Africa. The museum, opened in 2002 in Soweto, shows the history of the Soweto students’ uprising on June 16, 1976. Nzima’s photograph is the centerpiece of the exhibit.
In 2011, Nzima was awarded the bronze National Order of Ikhamanga on Freedom Day. This honor, granted by the president, is given to South African individuals for achievements in arts, culture, literature, music, journalism, and sports.
“Sam Nzima was one of a kind,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in a statement. “His camera captured the full brutality of apartheid oppression on the nation’s psyche and history.”
For a brief crash course on apartheid, here is a short little video: