Alf Kumalo (5 September 1930 – 21 October 2012), was a well known South African documentary photographer and photojournalist. Over the years his work appeared in various publications including Bantu World, Golden City Post, The Star, The Rand Daily Mail and Drum Magazine at home and The Observer, New York Times, New York Post and Sunday Independent internationally. He was one of the photographers whose images of the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960 documented that event. He also took photos around the Treason Trial, the Rivonia Trial, the 1976 Student Uprising and the Codesa talks. He worked at a time when journalists, particularly photographers, reporting the iniquities of apartheid were likely to be assaulted, arrested and even killed. Alf Kumalo was certainly harassed by the South African Police. After the demise of Apartheid, Alf Kumalo opened a photographic school in Diepkloof, Soweto. He died on 21 October 2012.
This book (and I am reviewing the soft cover edition released in time for Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday) is a compilation of Alf Kumalo’s photographs of Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, centered around their home in the renowned Vilakazi Street, Soweto, a home bearing the number 8115. The accompanying text is by Zukiswa Wanner.
The back cover of the book says: “In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes his house at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Soweto, as ‘ …identical to hundreds of others …it had the same standard tin roof, the same cement floor, a narrow kitchen, and a bucket toilet at the back.’
Little did Mandela know when he first moved into the house in 1946 that it would become the stage for some of the most important political events in South Africa’s turbulent history and, in recent times, a cultural landmark visited by thousands of tourists each year.
Renowned photographer and close family friend Alf Kumalo captured the day-to-day life of the Mandelas – the raids by the security police and intimate family moments, both of joy and sorrow, as well as Mandela’s return to his home after his release from prison in 1990, twenty-eight years after he had left it. Using this unassuming house as the setting, 8115: A Prisoner’s Home collects some of Kumalo’s most historically important and beautiful images of the Mandela family and their home, giving us a unique insight into the life of the family who would have a profound effect on South Africa’s political landscape.
Inarguably one of South Africa’s greatest photographers, Alf Kumalo’s work has been exhibited all over the world. He was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa’s highest award for excellence in the creative arts.”
The images of the book charmed me. I find two in particular surprisingly touching. One is “A relaxed Nelson Mandela plays with Gompo, the family dog, outside the house at 8115 Vilakazi Street. The photograph was taken in 1959.” On the opposite page is one of Gompo peeping out from under the gate. That one becomes, for me, symbolic of the imprisonment of Gompo’s master.
I am struck anew how beautiful Winnie Mandela was as a young woman. I am moved by the pictures of Winnie and her children, Winnie and her husband and Winnie doing domestic chores.
8115 A Prisoner’s Home makes an excellent coffee table book and it will probably go on to sell in huge quantities to tourists who visit that home in Vilakazi Street, Soweto.
Sub-Title: A Prisoner’s Home
Photographer: Alf Kumalo
Author: Zukiswa Wanner
ISBN: 978 014 353 8370