top of page

The time of the comrades

When Themba Nkosi first picked up a camera, he did not know which way to point it. But now, seven years later, Themba has put together a book of his photographs. The book is called ‘The Time of the Comrades’.

Themba says, “My book shows that you do not need special training to be successful. I learnt to take photographs with help from my friends. And if I can learn from friends, anyone can do the same.”


The friend who helped Themba is another photographer, Bongani Mnguni. Bongani used to take photographs for the Sunday Post newspaper and Drum magazine.

In 1980 Themba was a driver at the Sunday Post. He often drove Bongani when Bongani went out to take photographs. They soon became good friends. And Themba became interested in what Bongani did.


When Bongani wasn’t looking, Themba took out his cameras. Themba didn’t know how to use them. But Themba used to watch everything that Bongani did. Then Themba started trying to take photographs himself with Bongani’s camera.

Bongani didn’t know what Themba was doing – till he saw photographs on his films that he hadn’t taken. Bongani knew at once that it was Themba. But he wasn’t angry. Bongani was pleased. And he started to teach Themba everything that he knew.

For the next year, Bongani and Themba were like brothers. Bongani helped Themba to buy his own camera. Soon Themba was taking photographs as well as the other photographers at the newspaper. But Themba carried on working as a driver.


In 1981 the Sunday Post was banned. Themba was left without a job. Themba didn’t know what to do – should he get another job as a driver, or should he try to make money with his photographs.

No-one wanted to give him a job – a driver who said he was a photographer! So Themba worked on his own. He sold his pictures wherever he could – to newspapers and magazines. He even took wedding photographs to get money.

But Themba’s work was so good that the City Press newspaper offered him a full-time job as a news photographer. Themba’s work took him all over the country – to political meetings and funerals everywhere.


And everywhere Themba went, he noticed the young people. Themba says, “Children are no longer children anymore. They are young adults. And they are at the front of the struggle today. That is what I wanted to show in my book.”

But ‘The Time of the Comrades’ is more than just a book about children. It is also a history book. It is the history of the last two years in South Africa.

“History is important,” says Themba. “I know many photographers have better pictures than mine. But they do not use them. It is no good having a cupboard full of photographs – a cupboard full of our history. Photographers must find a way of giving history back to the people who made it.”


And that is what Themba has tried to do. Each photograph in Themba’s book has writing to tell you about it. The book starts with a photograph taken at a student’s funeral in Pretoria in 1984. There are photographs of the school boycotts, and of the Vaal rent protest.

There are photographs of most of the big funerals that were held last year. And the book ends with photographs of the May Day rally in Orlando in 1986.

If you want to buy Themba’s book and see for yourself, you must send R13,40 to: SKOTAVILLE PUBLISHERS P.O. BOX 32483 BRAAMFONTEIN 2017 This money includes GST and postage.


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page