Nat Nakasa was a journalist in South Africa during the 1950s and 1960s, and a prominent advocate of black writing in the segregated nation. In 1964 he went to the US on a Nieman Fellowship, knowing the South African government of the time would never let him return.
A year later he was dead and apartheid South Africa refused to let his
body come back home. Tomorrow, nearly five decades after his death, Nat
Nakasa's remains will be exhumed from upstate New York and returned to
his homeland next month.Nat Nakasa in 1958 (Photo: Jurgen Schadeberg www.jurgenschadeberg.com)
Former Fulbright scholar, Ryan Brown, has studied
the life of Nat Nakasa, and she has written a book about him titled
'A Native of Nowhere'. She tells As It Happens
guest host Laura Lynch that Nat Nakasa was
an important journalist in the anti-apartheid struggle.
one of a very small and very brave group of black journalists," she
tells Laura, "who basically wrote the first draft of the history of
Nakasa was a staff writer for Drum, the most widely
circulated magazine in Africa at the time, and was also editor of 'The
Classic, South Africa's first black run literary journal. Over time his
writings brought Nakasa to the attention of the authorities. Brown has
seen the South Africa police file on Nakasa.
"For years and
years they followed him around," Brown says to Laura, "and at the very
back of this police file is what's called a banning order. When you were
banned in apartheid South Africa it meant that no writing could be
published under his name and you could not be seen in a gathering of
more than two people."Nakasa at Harvard (2nd from right) with his other Nieman Fellowship members (Photo: Nieman Foundation/ Ryan Brown)
Nakasa's order was never signed, because
in 1964 Nakasa was awarded the prestigious Nieman Fellowship, an award
for journalists to study at Harvard University for a year. His
decision to go to Harvard was one Nakasa didn't make lightly. The government
rejected his application for a passport, so he had one option, an
"What an exit permit allowed," Brown explains
to Laura, "it permitted you to leave, to exit the country, so long as
you agreed never to come back."
Nakasa did go the U.S. in 1964, but a year after that he was dead.
longer he was in the U.S. the more deeply he slipped into this
depression," says Brown, "He couldn't return to South Africa, but also
by order of the U.S. government, he couldn't stay in the United States.
So I think he just felt a huge sense of desperation about his future." Nakasa's gravestone in Ferncliff Cemetery in upstate New York (Photo: Reuters)
July 14th, 1965, Nat Nakasa fell out of the 7th floor window of a
friend's apartment. His death was ruled a suicide. But not everyone
"There have been a number of theories advanced about who
might have been involved, the U.S. government, the South African
government," Brown tells Laura, "But I think really what all those
rumours and conspiracies speak to is just what Nat's death symbolized
for people. He was an artist, writer, killed by apartheid."
South African government at the time refused to allow his body to be
returned, but now, nearly half a century after his death, Nakasa's
remains will head back to his homeland. His remains will be exhumed on
August 15th and then returned to South Africa in September.
interest in Nakasa's life helped spark this recent effort to have his
remains returned home. She says, "Given how symbolic he has always been
to South African journalism, it will bring closure to the family and to
Writer Ryan Brown, author of the book about Nat Nakasa 'A Native of Nowhere' (Photo: Ryan Brown)