Nzima a picture of press power

Photojournalist Sam Nzima
Photojournalist Sam Nzima

A man synonymous with June 16 is no more. Sam Nzima was behind the lens that captured the iconic image of a dying Hector Pieterson being carried by a fellow student after apartheid police opened fire on pupils protesting against the use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.

It was an image that opened the world's eyes to the true nature of what apartheid was all about - a heartless, brutal system that did not baulk even at mowing down children in its pursuit of the oppression of Africans.

The photograph surely helped reawaken the world that must have forgotten about the horrors of the Sharpeville Massacre 16 odd years earlier when 69 people were killed for demonstrating against pass laws.

The years following Nzima's capture of the deadly pandemonium that erupted all around him and changed his life forever, the apartheid juggernaut continued in its brutal assault on Africans in the mistaken belief that the gun would triumph over the desire of the human spirit to simply be free - especially in the land of their birth.

Nzima was persecuted, as were many of his colleagues in the Fourth Estate. It all culminated with widespread banning of newspapers, editors and more political organisations, especially those of the Black Consciousness pursuit in 1977 in what was to become known as Black Wednesday.

But the Soweto student uprising had relit the torch of freedom which couldn't be put out by any force known to mankind. The African on this southern-most tip of the continent was on unstoppable march to freedom, justice and dignity.

Nzima's image can also be seen in the light of the futility of efforts by the powerful to hide the truth.

The attainment of democracy often doesn't necessarily mean powers that be lose the desire to crush media freedom. We in the media are by no means holy cows, but we are glad that the kind of noises made in the immediate past administration about media controls have been muted.

A freer press, as borne witness by the works of many unsung heroes and heroines of the ilk of Nzima, is an indisputable pillar of a democratic order we all should be striving to build in this country.

Rest in peace Baba Nzima.

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