Nat Nakasa to be reburied in South Africa

23 June 2014

The remains of exiled writer and journalist Nat Nakasa are to be repatriated from the United States for reburial at his home in South Africa, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced during the annual Nat Nakasa Awards for Bravery in Journalism in Cape Town on Friday.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to inform you that we have now obtained permission to exhume and repatriate Nat Nakasa’s mortal remains back to home soil,” Mthethwa said. “The Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester, issued a court order granting us permission a few weeks ago.

“This momentous occasion happens exactly fifty years since Nakasa left South Africa, and on the twentieth anniversary of our freedom and democracy.”

Nathaniel Ndazana Nakasa, better known as Nat Nakasa, was a South African short story writer and journalist.

He was born in Durban in 1937 but moved to Johannesburg to work as a journalist for Drum magazine. He also worked for the Golden City Post and was the first black journalist to work at the Rand Daily Mail, where he provided a black perspective for the newspaper’s predominantly white readership.

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.

Also speaking at Friday’s awards ceremony, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said Nakasa was more than a reporter and a storyteller. “He was an activist, intellectual and opinion maker – one of those few individuals of whom could be said that without him, we would have been infinitely poorer.”

Ramaphosa said the repatriation of Nakasa’s mortal remains to South Africa would stand as a victory over those who had denied him the right to return to the land of his birth.

“It is a defeat for those who sought to turn Nakasa, like the majority of his people, into temporary sojourners in the country of their birth. Finally, his soul will rest in his ancestral land.”

Ramaphosa said journalists should remember Nakasa by pausing and reflecting on the role of the media in the new South Africa that was achieved in 1994. “We need to do this so that we can consider where we will be or desire to be tomorrow. As a society, we expect many things of the media … but at its most basic, we ask you to communicate the story of South Africa and its people.”

The media needed to tell stories that were good and also tell stories that were “difficult, painful and troublesome”, Ramaphosa said.

Journalists should write of the experience of a woman who had been freed from the burden of collecting firewood because she now had electricity.

“Tell us how this has enabled them to go out and find work, and how their lives have improved. But also be the voice of many people who have not yet had such opportunities.”

Minister Mthethwa said the South African and US authorities were still finalising the logistics for Nakasa’s remains to be returned to SA. He said plans were being made to rebury Nakasa in Heroes’ Acre in Chesterville, Duban, adding that the reburial date would be announced at a later stage.

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter