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The man who makes time stand still

Alf Khumalo is a great photographer. He lives in Soweto. Alf Khumalo has travelled all over the world. He has met and worked with famous people. Some people say AIf Khumalo is one of the best photographers in the world. Learn and Teach spoke to him.

Learn and Teach: Alf, can you please tell us about your childhood? Alf Khumalo: I was born in Vrededorp on the 5th September, 1930. My parents had 4 children. We lived in different places. We lived in Vrededorp, Alexandra Town ship, Evaton, Boksburg and Soweto.

My childhood was not so exciting. But I can remember one funny time from my childhood. My father sent me to my grandmother when I was seven years old. My father wanted me to learn about country life. My grandmother lived in Wakkerstroom in Natal.

One day I was looking after my grandmother’s goats. The wind was very strong that day. And goats like to follow the wind. I had trouble keeping the goats together. Nine goats got lost.

I was scared to go back without the goats. So I slept in the veld next to a water fall. They found me there the next day. My grandmother told my father to fetch me. She said the evil spirits had got me. Some people in my family still think evil spirits have got me.

Learn and Teach: How did you start photography? AIf Khumalo: I have always loved photographs. When I was a child, I loved looking at photo graphs in magazines and newspapers. Photographs are special. Photographs make time stand still.

After school I worked for a while. Then I bought a camera. I started taking pictures for magazines and newspapers. I worked very hard. I wanted to do well.

Learn and Teach: How does a person become a good photographer? Alf Khumalo: Photography is not easy. You must learn a lot of things before you can take a good picture. You must know what picture you want before you take the picture. The picture must be clear in you head. You must also know how your camera works. And you must learn about lighting. The picture must not be too dark. And the picture must not be too light.

But a person can only learn after a long time. Photography is like everything else. The more pictures you take, the better you get.

Learn and Teach: AIf, can you tell us about some of the people you have worked with? Alf Khumalo: I have worked with some great people. I have worked with people like Zeke Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, Si Mogapi, Arthur Maimane, Casey Motsisi, Can Themba, Nat Nakasa, Henry Nxumalo, Bob Gosani and lots of others. These guys taught me a lot. I can say these writers were better than the young writers today. They are better because they had better schooling. They went to school before Bantu Education started.

The guys also worked harder in the old days. They worked hard for their stories. We travelled anywhere for a story. For example, in 1963 two guys escaped from jail. Their names were Wolpe and Goidreich. These guys went to a camp in Botswana. But they only stayed there for a few days.

The editor of Drum told us he wanted a story and pictures. Arthur Maimane and I got into a car. We drove for 18 hours without stopping. We drove on sand roads and past wild animals.

We got to the camp. We told the guards we had letters for Wolpe and Goldreich. They let us into the camp. We got our story and pictures.

Learn and Teach: Alf, you are a newspaper photographer. Have you had any dangerous times? Alf Khumalo: Yes, I have had some dangerous times. I’ll tell you about one of the times. In 1976, the hostel people were fighting the township people. I was in Meadowlands taking pictures.

I went into a house. I was taking pictures from the window of the house. Then the police arrived. They started shooting at the house. Bullets were coming into the house through the walls. I lay on the floor. I was really scared.

Then a bullet hit a picture on the wall. The picture was a picture of Jesus and Mary. The bullet made the picture spin around twice. I said to myself: “If I live, I’ll give up this job”.

Then the cops came into the house. They didn’t come into the room I was in. Then the cops were gone. Ten minutes later I was taking pictures again.

Learn and Teach: Muhammed Ali is your friend. Can you please tell us about this friendship? Alf Khumalo: Yes, I first met Ali in London in 1963. Ali was in London for his fight against Henry Cooper. I was in London on a job for Drum.

I found out where All was staying. I went to see him. I took pictures and wrote a story. Afterwards I sent all the pictures and stories. He wrote and thanked me. We were friends from that time.

I saw Ali fight 7 times. I saw all his great fights. I saw li fight Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ernie Shavers.

In 1977 I stayed at Ali’s house for a week. He was very good to me. He took me for drives. We saw boxing films together. At home Ali is a different guy. He is very quiet. And he is very kind.

Learn and Teach: Alf, what are your plans for the future? Alf Khumalo: I must finish a book I have started. The book is about women. The book will only have pictures of women. And I want to make a film one day. My dream is to make a film.

Learn and Teach: Alf, you have travelled a lot. Do you like travelling? Aif Khumalo: I love travelling. The world is full of great pictures. But I will always come back to South Africa. I will always come home.


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