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Documentary is a fitting tribute to Sam Nzima’s life

Life Through His Lens, a 90-minute documentary film about the life of

accomplished photojournalist and TUT Honorary Doctor, Sam Nzima,

will be previewed during a special screening hosted as part of the TUT

Arts Festival on 26 September.

Despite Nzima’s significant contribution to South African history, his

story has been overshadowed and he has become a forgotten figure in

his homeland. It is a disheartening paradox that the man behind the

lens, whose photograph of Hector Pieterson forever altered the

trajectory of South African society, remains relatively unknown beyond

that single image.

To truly grasp the significance of Nzima’s iconic image one must delve

deeper into his personal journey, both before and after capturing that

life-changing moment.

Through this captivating documentary, which is the brainchild of Thulani

Nzima, Sam Nzima’s son, an immersive exploration of Nzima's

extraordinary life, shining a light on the tragic events that unfolded on

that fateful day and the profound impact they had on his life and career,

has begun.

“Life Through His Lens takes the viewer beyond the moment frozen in

time, delving into the impact of the photograph on Sam Nzima's life. It

follows him as he navigates the aftermath of capturing such a pivotal

image. The documentary uncovers the personal sacrifices he made, the

challenges he faced, and the resilience that kept him pushing forward in

the face of adversity,” says Thulani.

“In addition, the documentary shows how the photograph catapulted

Nzima onto the international stage, raising awareness about the

atrocities of apartheid and serving as a catalyst for change.”

Thulani adds that Life Through His Lens is considered not just a

documentary about a photograph; it is a tribute to the resilience of a

nation and the indomitable spirit of one man. “It is a reminder of the

power of storytelling through Sam Nzima’s lens and how a single image

can ignite a flame of change.”

“By shining a light on Nzima's life and the tragic events of 16 June 1976,

this documentary ensures that their legacy endures, inspiring future

generations to remember, reflect, and continue the fight for justice and


This poignant image, capturing the heartbreaking scene of Mbuyisa

Makhubu carrying the lifeless body of Hector Pieterson during the tragic

events of 16 June 1976, propelled Nzima to international recognition.

However, it also confined him to the boundaries of that moment, leaving

his earlier and later life moments unexplored and largely unknown.

The 16 June 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread

countrywide profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South


With many activists arrested and some exiled, musicians added their

voice through music in the fight against the injustices meted out by the

state. The photographers were not to be left out. They used their

cameras as powerful weapons to fight the apartheid system. The iconic

picture of Hector Pieterson is the climax of Nzima’s journey as a

photojournalist, but it also reflects the changed perspective of a young

man who only came to Johannesburg to work. He was now a freedom

fighter, using his camera to expose the monstrous acts of the


The publication of the picture plunged Sam Nzima into a world of

unimaginable suffering, leaving him haunted by regret. Threats to his life

loomed ominously, forcing him to flee back home to the obscurity of

Mpumalanga, severing the lifeline of his promising journalism career with

heartbreaking finality.

Trapped within the confines of his own home, a cruel form of

imprisonment, he fought valiantly to survive and make ends meet. As

democracy's light cast its glow upon South Africa in 1994, hope flickered

for many, but for Nzima, it ignited a fierce battle for the copyright of the

Hector Pieterson pictures. In the face of relentless opposition, he fought

not just for ownership but for the preservation of a poignant legacy that

had forever etched itself upon his soul.

The documentary is directed by Nhlanhla Mthethwa, an established

documentary film director, producer and archive researcher. The

producer is Silindile Memela of Full Circle Productions, and the Editor is

Ikaye Masisi, an award-winning editor who specialises in drama, long

and short-format documentary editing.

For more information about the TUT Arts Festival, click on

Tickets at Webtickets (TUT Arts Festival) or at your nearest Pick n Pay.


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