SA delegation to bring back Nat Nakasa’s remains

12 August 2014

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa led a South African delegation to the United States on Tuesday to bring back the remains of exiled writer and journalist Nathaniel Ndazana Nakasa – better known as Nat Nakasa – for reburial on home soil.

This comes after the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester, granted permission for Nakasa’s remains to be returned to South Africa.

The government has been involved in the efforts to return Nakasa’s remains for the past two years.

A pioneer in South African journalism

Nakasa was born in Chesterville outside Durban in 1937. He worked for the isiZulu newspaper ILanga Lase Natal before moving to Johannesburg to join Drum magazine, joining a long line of famous Drum writers that included Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Lewis Nkosi and Casey Motsisi.

He also worked for the Golden City Post, and was the first black columnist to write for the Rand Daily Mail, providing a black perspective for the newspaper’s predominantly white readership.

In 1963 he founded The Classic, the first black-owned literary journal in South Africa.

Death in exile

He was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in 1964 to study journalism at Harvard College in the US. 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 in a more subtle form. He did not like New York and soon moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he spent his time at Harvard steeped in the sombre business of education.

His death by suicide was an apartheid tragedy, and a tragedy of exile. 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 any more, and when I can’t laugh, I can’t write.”

As it was not possible to bring his body home, he was buried at the Ferncliff cemetery in upstate New York.

Nat Nakasa Essay Competition

As part of the Nat Nakasa: Bringing Home a Hero project, the Department of Arts and Culture has partnered with Drum magazine and the SA National Editors’ Forum to launch the Nat Nakasa Essay Competition for second-year university journalism students.

Entrants must write a 600-word essay explaining how the work of Nat Nakasa has inspired them to be the best in their field, and stand a chance of winning one of three internships at participating South African media houses in the course of 2015.

Entries close on 30 August, and the winners will be announced at Nakasa’s memorial service in Heroes’ Acre in Chesterville on 12 September 2014. See here for more information on the competition. and SAinfo reporter