Media Statement by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, on the Repatriation of Nat Nakasa

14 August 2014

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be here this morning, to brief you about our programme of activities as we are working towards the reburial of Nat Nakasa’s mortal remains. This is indeed a momentous occasion in the history of South Africa and the world. 

Left to right:  Consul General George Monyemangene, Nat Nakasa's sister Gladys Maphumulo, Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Nat Nakasa's nephew Sipho Masondo. Photograph: Lukman Bisiriyu

It is exactly fifty years since Nakasa was forced out of his country of birth by the apartheid government and denounced his citizenship. He became what he described as a “stateless being— a native of nowhere.” In October 1964, he enrolled at Harvard University for the prestigious Nieman Fellowship. During his short stay in this country, he wrote for a number of prominent publications, including the New York Times and Esquire Magazine. It was here in New York where he died tragically after falling from the seventh floor of a high-rise building near Central Park, on 14 July 1965.

Photograph: Lukman Bisiriyu

Nakasa now lies buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester, a few feet from Malcolm X, whom he had met and befriended a year before they both passed away. Almost fifty years later, the Nakasa family is finally able to pay a visit to his resting place. When we arrived in the United States with the family yesterday, we went straight to Ferncliff cemetery where we paid our long overdue respects to Nakasa. This was understandably a very emotional moment for many of us, and even more so to the Nakasa family.

Photograph: Lukman Bisiriyu

Nakasa’s return to his ancestral land coincides with the 20th anniversary of our freedom and thus is affirmation of South Africa’s democracy.

To the family, this will hopefully bring closure of a horrific chapter and heal the wounds that have remained a blight in our history and the conscience of all freedom loving people of this country for almost fifty years.

The final return of Nakasa's remains is a positive testament to a partnership that has seen government, media fraternity, the family and international stakeholders working together. We appreciate the efforts of everyone who has remained committed to upholding Nakasa's legacy and worked towards his final return. This marks an important victory for everyone who has supported the struggle for democracy and freedom in South Africa.

The memorial service will be held at the Broadway Presbyterian Church (on Saturday, 16 August 2014) from 10h00 to 12h00. This will allow his family, expatriates and the American Community to pay their last respect to this legendary journalist and writer. His remains will depart the American soil on Monday the 18th of August 2014. A special media briefing will be held on 19 August 2014 at King Shaka International Airport, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He will be reburied on Saturday, the 13th September 2014, at the Heroes’ Acre in Chesterville, KwaZulu-Natal Province.

We have organised a number of activities to celebrate the life of Nat Nakasa to ensure that his name is entrenched in the annals of South African heritage, including debate and writing competitions for the youth.

The Government of South Africa and its people wishes to thank all those who played a pivotal role in keeping the legacy of Nat Nakasa alive, including the civil rights movements, academics, journalists and other interest groups across the world.  

We are proud to say to the world Nat Nakasa will be returning to his ancestral land not as a native of nowhere but as a true South African patriot, an African and as a citizen of the world.

Telling his story is a celebration of an unsung hero who has played a pivotal role in moving South Africa forward to being a non-racial, democratic and equal society!

Thank you!