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Doyen of black photographers

- Refilwe Mabula

South Africa’s leading lensman, Peter Magubane, receives an honorary doctorate degree.

"I took pictures to liberate my country,” Peter Magubane, said after receiving an honorary doctorate degree from Wits University on Tuesday, 30 June 2015.

Magubane was bestowed with a Doctorate of Literature (DLitt) degree at the Faculty of Humanities graduation ceremony in the Wits Great Hall.

He was recognised for his exceptional photography craftsmanship that courageously chronicled the country’s history in ways that will preserve the memory of its struggles, pains and joys for years to come.

Addressing graduates and their families and friends, Magubane expressed that he never feared depicting the history of the country during apartheid despite having suffered greatly for his dedication.

“I was arrested and held for 586 days in solitary confinement,” he remembered. He was also later banned for five years and not allowed to take photographs.

Magubane’s courageous and determinant trait saw him rise from being a driver at Drum Magazine in its heyday to a photographer renowned worldwide for his consistent documentation of apartheid and its people.

“He is the doyen of black photographers in this country, a self-taught pioneer who has wielded his camera with remarkable effect for 60 years. He established a reputation for the capacity to take pictures under difficult circumstances when he had to hide his camera from police or shoot covertly, he did it with remarkable courage and commitment. He was made to suffer severely for this dedication,” .

Born in Johannesburg in 1932, Magubane was proud to be bestowed with an honorary degree from an institution in his hometown, and sang a clan praise shortly after receiving the doctorate. “This is the greatest honour I have ever received in the world. It is very nice to be at Wits where police used to beat me up for taking pictures,” he said.

Programme Director for the Mandela Rhodes Foundation in Cape Town, Judy Sikuza, delivered the and expanded on Magubane’s liberation legacy.

“It is an honour to hold a space where we are able to help people to reckon authentically with the past, in all its injustice, while trying to build for a better tomorrow.”

Sikuza, who is also a social practitioner, called upon the graduates to be agents of social transformation in the country.

“We have to figure out how to draw insights from having experience multiple parts of our society and use those insights to catalyst real transformation in our country. I believe that our greatest opportunity to contribute towards a truly transformed South Africa is to leverage the nexus point that we sit at, as those who constantly navigate across different races, class, cultures, and economic backgrounds. We could help craft a compelling vision that speak across the divides of South Africa,” she added.