Sam the Man – May 1992

This is piece I wrote when I visited the Lowveld in 1992:

Sam Njima lives in Lilyvale, Mpumalanga. Of course, when he became Sam the Man it was part of the Transvaal Lowveld. Then it was a lot wilder but many of the people that moved to his village had been forcibly moved from some of the Varty and Rattray lands after Verwoerd made some changes to the policies of  our land. Now lately, especially since the floods, there are a few Mocambicans as well. They started coming with their war and even have separate parts of the villages that they inhabit. They Speak Shangaan but with a deeper tone. Their houses, which are rural shanty shacks, are indistinguishable from their local neighbours.

Sam the Man is called that by everybody in Lilyvale where he is regarded as a lifetime mayor. He has a petrol filling station that has just had a revamp by B.P. and is the smartest building in town. There is general dealer which does not rate as much as the garage in looks. He donated money and built the primary school. It is a small clean white building with pretty Walt Disney characters handsomely painted on the walls. When I went past it was Women’s Day and all the children were out collecting firewood as gifts for their mothers. Sam the Man also donated money for the new clinic. Here the new government has helped and the clinic is staffed and administers vaccinations and gives out C.D.’s. There isn’t much electricity in Lilyvale and the radio is quite popular. C.D. is for ConDom. The locals don’t believe much in this plot. Although more and more of their friends and family are dying from Slim Disease and newer cemeteries are springing up, there is no danger. Life goes on and girlfriends are a way of life for a man.

Sam the Man is over fifty now. He has a big stomach and a few fat wives. He is a wealthy man. And he is very respected in the political circles of the land. He was not really an activist. Sure, he was troubled by the security police but that was only afterwards, and by then he was Sam the Man and even they could not touch him. Well, almost. At fifty he moved back to his home village of Lilyvale. He had a lot of money by then. Blood money to some.

He was not famous before, but after 1976 he was. He did not do much to change things, yet he was the one that changed them. He did not go to prison for it, but he was the one that set the wheels in motion after those in prison had started the drive. Sam the Man has children at school still, his youngest is only twleve. He will be a teenager next year, and will go to school learning Shangaan and English. He will have to learn English, to be able to entertain all the foreigners that come to his country nowadays, to see the wild animals, to see the sunset, and eagles flying in the open spaces. Perhaps he may even become the kind that they call “The Ranger”, showing people the wild animals in all their glory. Probably showing them all the animals stripped of their glory, but the foreigners will see them. His father, Sam the Man, also showed the foreigners.

Sam the man was a photographer. He did not take pictures of wildlife. He did not take pictures of death. But he became rich after they published his famous photograph on the cover of Time and Newsweek. Hector Peterson was on the cover, in the arms of his friends. Hector Peterson was killed on June 16, 1976: Soweto Day

 

An original Black & White print from my own darkroom, circa 1990: An Elephant in Kruger

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