Statement by Minister Mthethwa on the reburial of Nat Nakasa’s remains

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
02 Jul 2014

Old Court House Museum, Durban

MEC of Social Development, Ms Weziwe Thusi

Speaker of KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Cllr Sogie Naidoo

Nakasa Family and relatives
Members of the Media
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here this morning, to inform you about our plans for the reburial of the remains of Nat Nakasa. You would be aware that over the past few weeks, a lot has been said and written about our efforts to return the remains of this journalistic and literary icon to his ancestral home.

For those who may be not aware, Ndazana Nathaniel Nakasa was born in Chesterville, in 1937. He worked for Ilanga laseNatal before joining Drum Magazine in Johannesburg. He rose within the ranks of Drum and became its assistant editor. Through his achievements and personal commitments, he was a pioneer of taking South Africa forward.

Nakasa passed away in New York in 1965 at the tender age of 28. His accomplishments as a journalist far surpass his age. In his short life he had worked for Ilanga laseNatal, Drum Magazine, Golden City Post & the Rand Daily Mail. He also founded The Classic Magazine in 1963 with the intention of publishing “African Writing of merit.” This provided a foothold for artistic freedom of expression among the silenced.

He left South Africa in 1964 on an exit-permit to take up the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. He is now buried at Ferncliff cemetery outside New York, a few feet from Malcolm X’s grave. This is a historically significant cemetery in the American history, as the likes of James Baldwin and Paul Robeson are also buried there.

Nakasa established himself as an exceptional voice in South African journalism during the turbulent period of the 1950s and 1960s. This is the period that his friend and fellow scribe Lewis Nkosi, referred to as “The Fabulous Decade.” He was part of the generation of iconic writers such as Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Casey Motsisi and others. These were the pioneers of the so-called “Black Journalism” in South Africa. They were the advocates of nation building and social cohesion by putting their lives at risk chronicling authentic stories of their people.

Many of them were persecuted, banned and forced out of their home soil and perished on foreign lands. Nakasa was one of them.

His passing on 14 July 1965 was a tragedy to the South African struggle for a free and democratic society. Nakasa believed in freedom of speech, and dedicated his writing to bridging the racial divide in South Africa. He espoused the principles and values that undergird our constitutional democracy today. In fact, he refused to be boxed in an apartheid neo-Nazi ideology.

He defined himself on his own terms. He lived in what he called the “fringe country,” where one was not judged according to the colour of their skin.

Nakasa was the epitome of courage, integrity and social cohesion. He was also a great visionary and an ambitious young man. He challenged the superficial nature of the racial divide in South Africa.

As the first black columnist for The Rand Daily Mail, he took our country forward when he became the glue that brought together black and white readers. He had the courage to confront and pose some difficult questions at the time when the apartheid government was becoming more vicious against those who opposed it. He stayed true to his vocation in spite of constant intimidation and persecution by the apartheid government.

He was always engaged in efforts to empower himself, and by extension, his society. When the opportunity to take up the prestigious Nieman Fellowship came his way, he grabbed it with both hands. The apartheid government had other plans — they declined his application for passport, forcing him to take a one-way exit permit. This was a big blow to him.

The ideals that he espoused during his lifetime are the same ideals that South Africa is striving to achieve today. His work remains relevant in the present day society almost fifty years after his passing.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are delighted to inform you that Nat Nakasa will be reburied on Saturday, 13 September this year. You would know that September is Heritage month, and it is fitting that this momentous occasion is held during this month. The specific details of the ceremony and logistics will be communicated to you closer to the time.

I can confirm that Nakasa’s remains will be reburied in the Heroes’ Acre in his ancestral land in Chesterville. This will inscribe his name in our annals as one of the selfless South Africans who paid the ultimate price for us to attain the freedom that we enjoy today.

His reburial on home soil will not be the end of our mission. We will continue to embark on a number of efforts to ensure that Nakasa remains part of our collective memory.

The profound decision taken by the executive council of the provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal is the cornerstone of all what is happening today. We want to thank the Premier and the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government for its incisive leadership.

The City of Ethekwini is currently running an exhibition of Nakasa’s life and times, entitled, “A Native of Nowhere,” at the Oral History Museum in Durban. We invite all South Africans to come and experience the life of this son of our soil. There are also plans to host the “Nat Nakasa Week” annually.

I invite the broader society to celebrate the life of Nakasa and other outstanding South Africans whose selfless dedication to serving their people has taken our society forward. There is no doubt that Nakasa has contributed to the attainment of the democracy that we enjoy today.

To the Nakasa family, this could mean closure to a horrific chapter that has remained a constant pain for almost fifty years. I urge you to give them space to pay their respects to their kinsman during this period.

To us as the Department of Arts and Culture, this means we have fulfilled an important part of our mandate as the custodians of the nation’s heritage. This is part of our intervention strategies to promote, protect and preserve our heritage and history. Most importantly, this is how we take South Africa forward as we celebrate 20 years of freedom. We believe that Nat Nakasa is happy and smiling at us where he is.

I thank you.

 

For enquiries kindly contact Mr Sandile Memela: 0828003750 or email sandilem@dac.gov.za