The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) mourns the death of the unsung South African hero, photojournalist Santu Mofokeng, who died on Sunday 26 January 2020 at the age of 64 after a long illness.
Born in 1956 in Soweto, Mofokeng was not well-known inside his home country for much of his career but was an internationally acclaimed and talented photographer that was held in high regard mainly in Europe and in the USA.
Veteran Photojournalist and former SABC CEO, Jimi Matthews said: “He offered us a different photographic view of South Africa. Different from the famous ‘struggle’ images that emerged in the eighties and onwards.”
“He was less interested in the ‘Bang Bang’ genre of photography that depicted the horror of South Africa. His was a more humanistic view of life, a person subjected to the indignities of living under apartheid,” Matthews said.
Mofokeng did solo exhibitions in various galleries in South Africa and around the world including Market Gallery in Johannesburg, Netherlands Photo Institute in Rotterdam; the FNAC Montparnasse in Paris, France; the Transparency International in Berlin, Germany; the Memling Museum, Bruges in Belgium; as well as David Krut Projects in New York City.
Matthews said Mofokeng’s haunting images that he captured when he visited Auschwitz were consistent with his South African photos.
“The railway line, fading into the mist, very reminiscent of his Train Church series. A Silent Solitude depicting a few trees (without leaves) on the bank of a lake into which the ashes of the cremated were dumped, reminding one of the desolate images he often produced when photographing the South African landscape – trees being a recurring object in many of those images,” Matthews said.
In 2011, the Jeu de Paume in Paris mounted his mid-career project that went on to travel to the Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland; the Bergen Kunsthall in Norway; the Extra City Kunsthal in Antwerp; and the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg.
Matthews lamented that the rich body of work that Mofokeng has left behind will always bear testament to the enormous talent that he possessed.
“We were blessed that he shared his humane vision of the world around him with us. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” he said.
Mofokeng was a multi-award-winning photographer and fellowships the list below speaks volume of the level of recognition and respect he earned in his lifetime.
- 1991: Ernest Cole Scholarship, for study at the International Center of Photography, in New York City
- 1992: 1st Mother Jones Award for Africa
- 1998: Künstlerhaus Worpswede Fellowship, Germany
- 1999: Contre Jour Residency, Marseille
- 1999: DAAD Fellowship, Worpswede, Germany
- 2001: DAAD Fellowship, Worpswede, Germany
- 2007: Ruth First Fellowship
- 2009: Prince Claus Award, Netherlands
- 2016: International Photography Prize, Fondazione Fotografia Modena – Sky Arte, Italy.
SANEF sends its condolences to the family and friends of Mr Mofokeng. He will be sorely missed.
Note for Editors: SANEF is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. We promote excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research, education and training programmes.