Cape Town — The media fraternity has welcomed an announcement by Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa that the remains of veteran journalist Nat Nakasa will be repatriated from the United States for reburial at home.
The announcement was made in Cape Town during the annual Nat Nakasa Awards for Bravery Journalism.
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 USA. 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 more subtle. 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 anymore 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.
Speaking at the event on Friday, 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 poor," he said.
The repatriation of Nakasa's mortal remains to South Africa was a victory over those who 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," said Deputy President Ramaphosa.
He 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 are good and also tell stories that were "difficult, painful and troublesome".
Journalists should write of the experience of a woman who has been freed from the burden of collecting firewood because she now has 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," Deputy President Ramaphosa said.
Minister Mthethwa said South Africa and US authorities were finalising the logistics for Nakasa's remains to return to SA. He will be reburied in KwaZulu-Natal.