By Frisco Rosso
Alfred Kumalo, one of South Africa’s longest serving photojournalists died at the age of 82 on 21 October 2012 after battling with prostate cancer.
With a career spanning six decades Kumalo captured many of South Africa’s most historic events from as early as the 1950s, documenting the struggle against apartheid and later former president Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 2004.
Born in Utrecht near Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal (formerly Natal), Kumalo moved to Alexandra, Johannesburg as a child. He found delight through images and image-making at an early age, initially by drawing the world around him and whatever sparked his imagination. Seemingly his ability to identify and understand contrasting effects through shadow, garnered as a young sketcher, proved to be a defining trait in his later years as a lensman.
Partly inspired by renowned Drum magazine photographer Bob Gosani, Kumalo had begun freelancing as a photographer by 1952 and had even declined permanent photographic positions in favour of working freelance assignments. He did a great deal of work for Bantu World as well as other publications before finally accepting a permanent position for Golden City Post, but his big break came in the early 60s when his tenure at Drum began. He later went on to work for the Sunday Times in the 70s and The Star in the 80s.
During his career Kumalo famously documented the Treason Trial of 1956-1961, where 156 Congress Alliance activists including Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela were tried and acquitted of treason. During this time and after Kumalo developed a lasting friendship with Mandela, who became one of the photojournalist’s most photographed subjects.
As a photojournalist Kumalo covered South Africa’s liberation struggle extensively, frequently photographing key resistance leaders such as Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Helen Joseph and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. He also documented the Rivonia trial as well as the brutality and grief of the Sharpeville Massacre and Soweto Uprising.
Kumalo was also famed for his emotive township shots and beguiling studies of artists and musicians, capturing the essence of South Africa’s jazz movement and the performances and lifestyles of street artists.
In honour of his contribution to journalism and documentary photography in South Africa Kumalo was bestowed with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver at the South African National Orders awards in 2004.
His broad body of work encapsulates the plight and struggles of millions over a period of 50 or so years, but also illuminates the camaraderie and lighter moments of those suppressed by South Africa’s former apartheid regime. Kumalo’s efforts show photojournalism at the highest level and documents history succinctly and with little contrivance.
He will be fondly remembered by millions.
With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.