South African photographer Sam Nzima has died. He’s best known for shooting an iconic photo of the apartheid, a photo of Hector Pieterson being carried after being shot by South African police during the Soweto uprising. Nzima was 83.
A family member of Nzima’s confirmed the passing to SABC, saying that the veteran photographer collapsed last Thursday and passed away in the hospital two days later on May 12th.
Tributes began pouring in as news of Nzima’s passing spread.
Nzima was born in the town of Lillydale, Bushbuckridge, on August 8th, 1934. His interest in photography was sparked when he was taught how to use a camera by a teacher at school, and he was later trained further by a photographer named Patrick Rikotso while working at as a hotel waiter.
In 1968, he was hired as a full-time photojournalist by the African newspaper The World.
Eight years later, on June 16, 1976, Nzima was near a high school in Orlando West, Soweto, when he began documenting police reacting to student protests. It was during this event that Nzima saw and photographed his famous photo of the 13-year-old Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo and accompanied by Pieterson’s sister.
Here’s a 12-minute video by TIME about the story behind the shot:
That iconic photo, one of six Nzima shot, quickly became wildly published around the world and is now considered a defining image of apartheid. But Nzima was never paid for the photo’s usage, and what’s more, he subsequently spent years in hiding and being harassed by police because of it.
The World was shut down by the South African government in 1978, but the assets were acquired in 1999 by the company Independent Newspapers, which then returned the photo’s copyright to Nzima, allowing him to finally profit from its use.
Here’s a 9-minute look at Nzima’s life by SABC: