JOHANNESBURG – Alfred Kumalo, a South African photographer whose work chronicled the brutalities of apartheid and the rise of Nelson Mandela, died of renal failure in a Johannesburg hospital on Sunday night, the ruling party said Monday.
The African National Congress described Kumalo as a "rare and significant talent that was pivotal in raising social consciousness and exposing the brutality of the apartheid administration."
He was 82.
"South Africa has lost a self-taught giant in the media field who still bears the scars of torture and mental scars of continuous detentions by the apartheid security forces," the ANC said. "The (ANC) bows its head in honor of a singularly brave and daring South African who bequeathed our country and future generations historic moments captured in his camera."
Kumalo, whose work graces museum walls across South Africa, was perhaps best known for his photos of Nelson and Winnie Mandela as a young couple. The photographer's career "mirrored the rise in Mr. Mandela's political career," said the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory. The center said Kumalo captured "many of the historic events in which (Mandela) played a key role."
The opposition Democratic Alliance similarly praised Kumalo, saying his work inspired South Africans with a message of hard work and integrity. "Mr. Kumalo was a photographer who had the courage to honestly reflect the reality of South African life," the DA said. "His photos provide a visual history of South Africa's struggle against the brutal apartheid regime and remind us of the importance of an independent media in exposing the excesses of the state."
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki said Kumalo's work made him "one of South Africa's eminent historians."
Kumalo, who started working as a photographer in 1951, first gained prominence at the renowned Drum magazine, a sophisticated publication that covered black life at a time when apartheid was intensifying its assault of black culture. He covered the Rivonia trial, in which Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, and was present again in 1994 when the anti-apartheid icon was sworn in as South Africa's first black president.
Greg Marinovich, a prominent South African photographer who covered the last days of apartheid, said Kumalo's work over the years was "legendary."
"This was a guy who had done it all, from hanging out with Muhammad Ali while shooting 'Rumble in the Jungle' (before turning down an offer to be Ali's personal photographer) to capturing Oliver Tambo ringside at a boxing match and then later at his treason trial," Marinovich said in a tribute in the Daily Maverick, a local newspaper published online. "He was particularly close to Nelson Mandela. He became Mandela's de facto official photographer when Nelson was in jail, chronicling the lives of his wife Winnie and the children Madiba could not watch grow up."
Kumalo had most recently started a photography school for poor children in Soweto, the scene of some of his best work over the years. There is also a Kumalo Museum of Photography in Soweto.