Exiled SA writer’s remains go home

Sipho Masondo, nephew of exhumed South African journalist Nathaniel Nakasa, speaking during a memorial service for his uncle Nat Nakasa in the Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York, 16 August 2014A memorial service was held for Nat Nakasa in New York on Saturday

The remains of renowned anti-apartheid journalist Nat Nakasa are being returned to South Africa from the US.

He was awarded a year’s fellowship to study journalism at Harvard University in 1964 and took his own life a year later in New York at the age of 28.

The apartheid government had refused to give him a passport so he had left on an exit permit, which meant he was unable to go home.

“Nat would be very happy,” his sister Gladys Maphumulo said.

‘Proud moment’

She attended the memorial service for Nakasa on Saturday in New York, a day after his remains were exhumed.

People carry the coffin of exhumed body of the South African journalist Nathaniel Nakasa after a public memorial service in the Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York, the US - 16 August  2014He is due to be reburied in South Africa in September

At the service, South Africa’s Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said it was the closure of a “horrific chapter of our history”.


Analysis: Pumza Fihlani, BBC News, Johannesburg

It is fitting that one of the country’s most celebrated writers should return home as South Africans celebrate 20 years of freedom.

He once wrote: “I may shut up for some time because of fear. Yet even this will not make me feel ashamed. For I know that as long as the ideas remain unchanged within me, there will always be the possibility that, one day, I shall burst out and say everything that I wish to say – in a loud and thunderous voice.”

The return of his remains is also a reminder of the many men and women who died in exile during apartheid, far from their families.

I imagine he would be as critical of today’s social ills as he was of those in the 1960s. But I also imagine he would call on South Africans to celebrate the achievement that black people are now free to live where they want, work where they want and love who they want. South Africans hold him in high regard because he is a reminder of how far black people have come.


A campaign to have Mr Nakasa’s remains returned home began not long after the end of white minority rule in 1994.

“This is a proud moment for South African journalism and the nation as a whole that we have been able to give Nat his last wish, returning to the land of his birth and to rest eternally with his ancestors,” the South African National Editors Forum said in a statement.

The headstone of writer and journalist Nathaniel Nakasa is seen at his grave at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, the US - 11 August 2014Nat Nakasa died in New York after jumping off a high rise building

Nakasa started his career in Durban, and later moved to Johannesburg where he worked for Drum magazine and other publications.

The late Nadine Gordimer knew Nakasa during his time in Johannesburg, and said he was a good talker and through his columns revealed a “a highly personal kind” of journalism which showed the daily reality of apartheid “for one man living through it”.

His writing reflected the “gaiety of a serious man”, said the Nobel Prize-winning author, who died in July.

“The truth is that he was a new kind of man in South Africa,” she wrote in an essay published in a collection of her writing, Telling Times.

“He accepted without question and with easy dignity and natural pride his Africanness, and he took equally for granted that his identity as a man among men, a human among fellow humans, could not be legislated out of existence.”

Nakasa’s repatriated remains are being flown to Durban and are due to be reburied next month.