As a black photographer, Mr. Magubane often faced far greater risks than his white colleagues, but he sometimes devised ingenious solutions in places where the authorities banned the media — including hiding his camera in a hollowed-out Bible, and again in a loaf of bread. When he ate too much bread, he stored his Leica 3G in an empty milk carton.
“You had to think very fast,” he told Mother Jones. “You had to be one of the segregationists.”
However, his Zulu roots also gave him some advantages in coverage. Mr. Magubane (pronounced mah-goo-BAHN-eh) could move through black townships and other areas without attracting much attention. During the 1976 Soweto riots, protesters worried that police would recognize them from news photographs. Mr Magubane convinced them to let him and the other photojournalists do their work.
“I told them: A struggle without documentation is not a struggle,” Mr. Magubane said in 2001.
His body of work has provided one of the most comprehensive archives of South Africa from the 1950s to the end of apartheid and the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela as the country's first black president. Much of Mr Magubane's reporting – working first with South African media and later with international media including Time magazine – chronicled some of the worst bloodshed of the apartheid era.
And in the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, after police killed no less 69 Unarmed protesters, Mr. Magubane photographed a group of police with their backs turned to the camera, seemingly unconcerned by the body of a black man behind them. During the Alexandra riots in 1976, a cadre of stone-throwing protesters fills the frame. In the middle, a young man appears carrying a trash can lid as a shield.
He once said: “Only after I have completed my task do I think of the dangers that have surrounded me, and the tragedies that have befallen my people.” “I was posing with my camera. I had to use it to show the people of South Africa and the world what is happening in our country.”
It also meant Mr Magubane showing the daily indignities of apartheid. In one mine, he photographed a line of black male job seekers, stripped naked, standing in line during a health screening. In 1956, he saw a black woman, presumed to be a domestic worker, with a young girl. The girl on the side of the seat said “Europeans only.” Women, on the other hand, were “colored only.” The photo received worldwide attention and became one of Mr. Magubane's most famous images. He never knew their names.
“When I saw ‘Europeans Only’, I knew I had to approach it with caution,” Mr. Magubane told The Guardian in 2015. “But I didn’t have a long lens, so I had to get close.” However, I did not interact with the woman or the child. “I never ask for permission when taking pictures.”
In 1969, he was assigned by the Rand Daily Mail to cover a demonstration outside Pretoria prison that included Mandela's wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and 21 other anti-apartheid activists. Mr. Magubane was arrested on security-related charges and spent 586 consecutive days in solitary confinement. He recounted, saying: “The only person I saw was the guard who was saying: ‘Don’t talk to me.’”
He was released without any formal trial, but was placed under a “banning” order that effectively banned him from working and limited his public interactions to just one person. He was arrested again in March 1971 on charges of violating prohibition rules and spent more than six months in prison, including another period in solitary confinement for 98 days.
“A bird comes and sits on the windowsill. When I stood up, it was flying away,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “All I could think about was how much I wanted to be that bird.”
When Prohibition ended in 1975, he returned to work at the Rand Daily Mail. “It was like coming back from the dead,” he recalls. “But it was difficult, because I lost the photographer’s eye.” By 1976, he was back in the lineup and covering the Soweto uprising “with a vengeance,” he said. Once again the authorities came for him.
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Mr Magubane and other black journalists were detained for nearly five months in apparent retaliation for coverage of Soweto. While he was in prison, Mr. Magubane's house burned down. No suspects have been charged.
He never thought about leaving the country. He explained that the fight against apartheid must be told by the people most at risk. “I would stay and fight with my camera as my gun,” he said. “I didn’t want to kill anyone, though. I wanted to eliminate apartheid.”
Peter Sexford Magubane was born in Vrededorp, a suburb of Johannesburg, on 18 January 1932, and grew up in nearby Sophiatown, an area that was later demolished and rebuilt into a whites-only enclave. Mr Magubane wrote in an article that his father ran a vegetable cart. His mother was a housewife.
His interest in photography began with a Kodak Box Brownie, a gift from his father. However, there were few options for learning the craft as a career. Apartheid rules prevented black photographers from using the same darkrooms as their white colleagues.
Mr. Magubane took a job as a tea boy at Drum magazine, one of the rare media outlets to employ black staff. Mr. Magubane eventually became a driver and studied photojournalism on the job. After work, he took his own photos around Johannesburg and used Drum's darkroom. He had to sleep in the office because public transportation back to Sophiatown was closed for the night.
Drom gave him his first real assignment, covering the anti-apartheid African National Congress in 1955. South Africa soon banned the ANC, and Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison in 1964.
Mr. Magubane was beaten by the police while carrying out his duties. He said he once returned to the office so bloodied and covered in bandages that his editor did not recognize him.
Mr Magubane moved to the Rand Daily Mail in 1967; He became a freelance photographer for Time magazine in 1978 and later for groups including the United Nations. He has published 17 books, the most recent focusing on African culture and landscape.
“I'm tired of dealing with dead people,” he told the New York Times in 2012. “Now I'm dealing with sunsets.”
His first two marriages ended in divorce. He married Lenora Tate, an American civil rights activist, in the early 1980s. In 1992, the body of his son Charles Magubane, also a photographer, was found in Soweto. No suspects have been charged. The body was found near a hostel used by members of the Inkatha Freedom Party, a Zulu faction and rival to Mangosuthu Buthelezi's ANC.
Survivors include Mr. Magubane's wife and daughter, Fikile Magubane. Complete information about the survivors was not immediately available.
Two days after Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he and Mr. Magubane had a chicken curry dinner at Mandela's home. Mr Magubane accepted an offer to become Mandela's official photographer, a position he held until the 1994 presidential election.
After leaving prison, Mandela realized that he had not done it You have a passport and may need to travel to the ANC headquarters in Zambia. Mr Magubane took some photos of Mandela's head, the first solo photos of Mandela since his release from prison. The next morning, Mandela's lawyer took the photos to the passport office in Johannesburg.