Nat Nakasa’s Life
11 Jun 2019 ARTS & CULTURE
By Nomali Cele
This youth month we are celebrating the continued contribution of young people as well as young people’s voices in the arts and moving culture forward. Across generations, there have been young people who shape their present and impact the many futures we live after their time. First up is the life and times of Nat Nakasa. In his short life, Nakasa made an impact on journalism and publishing in black South Africa.
Who was Nat Nakasa?
Nat Nakasa was born Ndazana Nathaniel Nakasa in Durban in 1937. It is widely believed that Nakasa left school without matriculating due to his family’s means. His career began at Ilanga. Although he passed away in the 1060s, Nakasa’s remains returned home only in 2014, after years of pressure on the government to do something.
What did Nat Nakasa do?
Nat Nakasa was a writer and editor. He was a prominent figure of the Drum generation of journalists. Founded in the 1950s, Drum magazine was a hub for the day’s afropolitan writers, journalists and photographers. The publication was Pan African and communicated those ideas to its urban readership, creating a form of resistance to the apartheid landscape, which was just taking hold.
After Drum, he went on to found and edit his own literary journal, The Classic. The Classic is understood to be the first black-owned and run literary journal in South Africa. He remains one of the most name-checked South African writers of any generation and was one of the more prolific writers of the Drum generation.
How did Nat Nakasa Die?
In 1964, Nat Nakasa was awarded a prestigious scholarship: the Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. The fellowship for journalists has been around for decades and is still going on even today. When Nat Nakasa applied for a passport, it was denied.
He had to leave South Africa on an exit permit, which essentially exiled him from his country of birth. When he left South Africa, he lost his citizenship. His arrival in America deepened Nakasa’s isolation. He died the following year at the age of 28 after what is still believed to be suicide.
What is Nat Nakasa’s legacy?
Each year, since 1998, the South African National Editors’ Forum has awarded the Nat Nakasa award, which celebrates courageous journalism. The traits considered for a nominee to be eligible for the award include resisting censorship, commitment to serving the people of South Africa and showing courage in making information available to the public, to name a few.
Featured image by Richard Saunders