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South Africa repatriates remains of anti-apartheid journalist who died in US in 1965

By Staff Reporter


Nakasa’s gravestone in Ferncliff Cemetery in upstate New York (Photo: Reuters) 


 South Africa is repatriating the remains of a black anti-apartheid journalist who died in the United States in 1965 and was buried there until his recent exhumation.

The remains of Nat Nakasa were expected to arrive Tuesday in the coastal city of Durban, where he will be reburied, South Africa’s arts and culture ministry said. Nakasa’s sister, Gladys Maphumulo, and other members of his family are in the South African delegation accompanying his casket, which is draped in the national colors, according to the ministry.

Nakasa worked for DRUM magazine and other publications in Johannesburg during white minority rule half a century ago. He left South Africa in 1964 for a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. The South African government had not issued him a passport, making it impossible for him to return home.

At the age of 28, he plunged from the seventh floor of a building in New York City. His death was ruled a suicide, and he was buried at Ferncliff cemetery in Hartsdale, north of the city.

Ryan Brown, author of “A Native of Nowhere: The Life of Nat Nakasa,” has reported how Nakasa felt increasingly alienated in the United States, partly because of his uncertain legal situation as a South African unable to return to his country. She also wrote that Nakasa was concerned for himself because of a history of mental illness in his family.

The U.S. and South African governments monitored Nakasa while he was in the United States, according to Brown.

Supporters have described Nakasa as a victim of apartheid because of the circumstances that effectively made him an exile, and there are conspiracy theories about his death despite a lack of evidence of foul play.

“He died under mysterious circumstances,” South Africa’s arts and culture ministry said in a statement.

The South African National Editors Forum said only that Nakasa died “tragically,” and has welcomed the return of his remains. Nakasa will be reburied on Sept. 13, ending a long repatriation effort that began in the late 1990s and eventually secured necessary resources and state involvement, it said.

“This is a proud moment for South African journalism and the nation as a whole that we have been able to give Nat his last wish, returning to the land of his birth and to rest eternally with his ancestors,” the forum said in a statement.


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