By the time Nakasa moved to Johannesburg to work at Drum, the magazine's chaotic envisioning of black urban life had launched the careers of a cadre of talented black writers and photographers including Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Peter Ma-gubane, Ernest Cole, Todd Matshikiza and William (Bloke) Modisane. Educated at the moment when segregation cohered into apartheid, these men carried themselves brashly, rejecting their literary predecessors as conservative and woefully romantic, lacking the bite to respond to the dangerous world they inhabited. They saw themselves as an extension neither of an older black South African literary tradition nor of the community of white liberal South African novelists like Alan Paton, but rather in the mould of the Harlem Renaissance. They were, they believed, figures at the crossroads of a literary and social revolution that could redefine the meaning of blackness one photograph, short story or jazz piece at a time.16
Just as The Classic kicked into gear, however, Nakasa began to express deep frustration with life in South Africa, repeatedly complaining to friends and colleagues that he 'felt like hopping the next plane to go seek my fortune outside this hole'.44 Nakasa's disillusionment was fed in part by the growing danger of publishing literature in South Africa. In 1963, the same year as the first issue of The Classic was published, Parliament had passed the Publications and Entertainment Act, a piece of legislation that granted the state broad powers to ban or censor content it deemed unfavourable. This time around, the list included anything that was 'harmful to public morals', blasphemous, ridiculed 'any section of the inhabitants of the Republic', or posed a danger to the general peace. In the fall of 1963, for instance, Nakasa found himself forced to reject a short story submitted to The Classic since it was 'too hot to handle because [of] a rather bold bedroom angle', which he realized could catch the eye of the government censors and could spell death to the entire magazine.45
But to think of Nat Nakasa this way misses an important point: resistance to apartheid was acted out not by symbols but by people, moving through their lives without the moral clarity that historical hindsight affords. Such individuals are not simply shorthand for the injustices of apartheid - they are humans with sprawled and intricate lives that resist easy categorization. And unfortunately for those who would make an idol of Nakasa - or indeed any figure in modern South African history -deification does not hold up well to the scrutiny of detail.
1 For her indefatigable and patient advisement on this project, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to Karin Shapiro. Thanks are due as well to Heather Acott, Janet Ewald, Gail Gerhart, Alyssa Granacki, Brooke Hartley, Snayha Nath, Alan Venable, Andrew Walker, and especially to Rose Filler and Karlyn Forner for their valuable comments and support on various iterations of this project. I am also grateful to Thivhulayiwe Mutavhatsindi, who copied portions of the Nathaniel Nakasa Papers at the University of the Witwatersrand Historical Papers Collection for me and Kate Ryan, who translated Nakasa's police file from Afrikaans to English. Finally, I wish to acknowledge the generous financial support of the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright program for additional research conducted between September and November 2011. 2 Nat Nakasa, 'Native of Nowhere', The Classic, 1, 1 (1963), 73. 3 Matthew Keaney, \"I Can Feel My Grin Turn to a Grimace\": From Sophiatown Shebeens to the Streets of Soweto on the Pages of Drum, The Classic, New Classic, and Staffrider (Unpublished M.A. thesis, George Mason University, 2010), 128. Thanks to Matthew for correcting my previous misconceptions - and the historical record more generally - about the timing of Nakasa's death. 4 Interview with Hugh Masekela, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 12 October 2010. 5 Historical and literary studies that provide a brief mention of Nat Nakasa include Peter Benson, '\"Border Operators\": Black Orpheus and the Genesis of Modern African Art and Literature', Research in African Literatures 14, 4 (1983), 431-73; Michael Chapman, The Drum Decade: Stories from the 1950s (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1989); Walter Ehmeir, 'Publishing South African Literature in English in the 1960s', Research in African Literatures, 26, 1 (Spring 1995), 111-131; Ulf Hannerz, 'Sophiatown: The View from Afar, Journal of Southern African Studies, 20, 2 (June 1994), 181-193; Mike Nicol, A Good Looking Corpse (London: Secker & Warburg, 1991); R. Neville Choonoo, South Africas Alternative Press: Voices of Protest and Resistance, 1880-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 252-265. Additionally, there are two literature Master's theses that focus on Nakasa's writing style: Heather Acott, 'Tactics of the Habitat: The Elusive Identity of Nat Nakasa' (Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of South Africa, 2008) and H.B. Singh, 'Nathaniel Nakasa, the Journalist as Autobiographer: A Crisis of Identity' (Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Natal, 1990). By their nature, however, neither pays significant attention to his biography. The most detailed existing academic account of Nakasa's life is found instead in a biographical chapter within Matthew Keaney's Master's thesis,'\"I Can Feel My Grin Turn to a Grimace\": From Sophiatown Shebeens to the Streets of Soweto', which provides in particular new and rich analysis on the context of Nakasa's suicide. 6 The subject of biography's role in telling South African history has become an object of study and debate in recent years. See for example the exchange between Ciraj Rassool and Jonathan Hyslop in the South African Review of Sociology: Ciraj Rassool, 'Rethinking Documentary History and South African Political Biography', South African Review of Sociology, 41, 1 (2010), 28-55; Jonathan Hyslop, 'On Biography: A Response to Ciraj Rassool', South African Review of Sociology, 41, 2 (2010), 104-115. 7 Special thanks to Karin Shapiro and the students of her 'Modern South African History through Biography and Autobiography' course for first elucidating these themes to me. 8 Nat Nakasa, 'Snatching at the Good Life', The World of Nat Nakasa (Johannesburg: Picador Africa, 2005), 37. [ Links ] 9 'Cost of Coronation Heaviest in History, New York Times, 13 May 1937, 18. 10 For a more extensive discussion of this theme, see Saul Dubow, 'Introduction: South Africa's 1940s' in Saul Dubow and Alan Jeeves, eds., South Africas 1940s: Worlds of Possibilities (Cape Town: Double Storey, 2005), 1-19 and Deborah Posel, Vie Making of Apartheid: 1948-1961, Conflict and Compromise (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 23-60. 11 Basic biographical information on Nakasa's early years comes from his younger sister, Gladys Maphumulo. Telephone interview with Gladys Maphumulo, 7 November 2010. 12 Chamberlain Nakasa, Ivangeli Lokuz Akha or The Gospel of Self Help (Icindezelwe Ngabe Mission Press: Durban, 1941), 78. 13 'Zulu Lutheran High School: Junior Certificate Result - 1954', Ilanga Lase Natal, 5 February 1955, 15. 14 Theo Zindela, Ndazana: The Early Years ofNat Nakasa (Braamfontein: Skotaville Publishers, 1990), 10-11. 15 'The Press: South African Drumbeats', Time, 15 December, 1952. Accessed 12 October 2010. ,9171,820505,00.html 16 Lewis Nkosi, Home and Exile (London: Longmans, 1965), 4-5; Nat Nakasa, 'Writing in South Africa: A Speech at the University of the Witwatersrand', The World of Nat Nakasa (Johannesburg: Picador Africa, 2005), 230; R. Neville Choonoo, South Africas Alternative Press, 254. 17 Aluka: The Digital Library of Scholarly Resources from and about Africa, Suppression of Communism Act of 1950. Accessed 16 September, 2010. 18 Interview with Mongane Serote in Lauren Groenewald, Dir., Nat Nakasa: A Native of Nowhere (DVD, Times Media South Africa, 1999). 19 Anthony Sampson, Drum: An African Adventure - and Afterwards (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), 102. 20 For articles mentioned in this paragraph, see Nat Nakasa, 'Why Taximen are Terrified', Drum, March 1958, 30-35; 'Look What We Drink', Drum, February 1958, 15-16; 'The Life and Death of King Kong', Drum, February 1959, 29-32. 21 There was, of course, never a strict dichotomy between journalism and activism. Some Drum writers were also ANC or Communist Party members or otherwise involved in resistance activities. Prominent among them were Ezekiel (Es'kia) Mphahlele, Alex La Guma and Dennis Brutus. 22 South African History Archive, University of the Witwatersrand, AL3284: 'Mark Gevisser's Research Papers for Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred', X11, Interview with Thabo Mbeki, 26 August 2000; Mark Gevisser, A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 72. 23 Nat Nakasa, 'The Human Meaning of Apartheid', The New York Times Magazine, 24 September, 1961, 46. 24 The only Sharpeville-related content to appear during the State of Emergency was a photographic essay taken at the funeral of the victims. Photographs and accounts taken by Drum writers at the scene of the massacre, however, were published in many international outlets and helped build up global outrage against the National Party. Peter Magubane, 'Sharpeville Funeral', Drum, May 1960, 28-31; Tom Hopkinson, In the Fiery Continent (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1962), 258. 25 Nat Nakasa, 'Over the Border', Drum, July 1960, 24-27. 26 National Archives (Pretoria), NTS 2769: 1623/301 Paspoort Lewis Nkosi; Karin Shapiro, 'No Exit : The Politics of Emigration Restrictions in Early Apartheid South Africa' (Unpublished paper, North-eastern Workshop for Southern Africa Conference, April 2007), 9. 27 Walter Ehmeir, 'Publishing South African Literature in English in the 1960s', Research in African Literatures, 26, 1 (Spring 1995), 111-113. 28 Drum had once published f