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Hamba kahle Comrade Mackson

Mackson Tshikambu is dead!”. When I heard these words, I stopped for a moment. He was a man I knew.

I felt a loss. Mackson Tshikambu. I met him in 1982 when he was a security guard at City Press Newspaper. When he died on 16 July 1988 he was working as a full time photographer in the COSATU media department

Mackson died in a car accident on 1 July 1988. He and his friends were coming back from a photographic conference in Cape Town.

His funeral programme tells us that Mackson was born in the village of Tshiavha in 1960. He was the second son of Mungedzi who lives in Venda and Wilson who works in Johannesburg. He was married to Reineth and they had two daughters.

After Mackson passed Std 8 at Khakhu High School in 1982, he came to Jo’burg to work as a security guard. It did not take him long to understand the need for workers to stand together. He joined the General and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU).

At this time Mackson also became interested in photography. He bought a camera and went on a photographic course in Johannesburg. He also went to union meetings. He was learning about being an organised worker and photographer.

Robert Tshiswaise worked with Mackson as a security guard at City Press. They were close friends. “Mackson was a happy and lively someone,” says Robert. “He was always telling me to go back to school and study. He brought me magazines and books and newspapers to read.”

Mackson used to come to the Learn and Teach office in his security guard uniform. He would come with photographs that he had taken. The first pictures he showed us were everyday sorts of pictures, like of his friends and people having haircuts at the station.

Then he began to take pictures at union meetings, the sort of pictures that we at Learn and Teach and other magazines and newspapers were glad to buy.

His pictures of workers were like family pictures, because he came from a family of workers, and workers were his family.

In 1986 Comrade Mackson went to work at COSATU house as a security guard. It was a hard and dangerous job. He was always in the middle of the action when the police and their friends “visited” Cosatu. But Mackson always kept his cool.

As somebody in Cosatu wrote: “In the midst of it all, Mackson, like a true comrade, would remain strong and would often say that our enemies will never succeed in stopping the forward — march of the struggle against apartheid and exploitation. Never once was he overcome by fear for his own safety… he was indeed prepared to lay down his life for COSATU.”

After COSATU House was bombed, Mackson took on a new job doing the two things he loved best — taking photographs and furthering the workers struggle. He was now a full – time worker photographer for COSATU’s Media Department.

Mackson believed that workers could speak to each other through photographs about their common needs, their demands and their dreams. Photographs can tell the story of workers’ conditions and the importance of workers’ organisations.

Mackson was a lucky man because he found what he liked doing. And he was good at it. At the time of his death he was planning to take photographs of workers living in hostels. He was going to live in a hostel for a while and meet the people there. He believed that a photographer must talk to people before taking pictures. That way they get better pictures.

Victor Matom, another close friend of Mackson’s and a fellow photographer, says that Mackson was unlike many other men. “He was sympathetic to women”. It worried him that there were so few black women photographers. At the time of his death, Mackson was working together with Victor training young people — mainly young women —how to work a camera.

Mackson Tshikambu, We will remember what you showed us about being a worker photographer and a good comrade. Hamba Kahle!


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