homehomepeopleHenry Nxumalo

Names: Nxumalo, Henry

Born: 1918, Port Shepstone, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

Died: 1956, Orlando, Soweto, South Africaa

In Summary: Journalist.

Henry Nxumalo was the eldest child of Lazarus and Josephine Nxumalo. The family, which also included his grand-father and six brothers and sisters, were very close. His grandfather, Ggoba, died when he fell over a cliff, and in the early 1930s the children lost both their parents. The young Nxumalo, not yet 14, had to take charge of the family.

In 1934, at the age of 16, Nxumalo left school and found work as a kitchen servant in Durban. As this did not appeal to him he soon moved to Johannesburg where he was employed as an assistant in a boilermaker's shop.  In his free time Nxumalo tried his hand at poetry and several of his poems were printed by Bantu World, a black newspaper. He was subsequently appointed as a messenger at the newspaper and within three years he had risen to the position of sports editor.

Nxumalo left Bantu World in the 1940s to join the army's medical corps which rendered service in Cairo during the Second World War. Nxumalo was soon promoted to the rank of sergeant. After the war, Nxumalo went back to Bantu World. He also wrote a regular column for the Pittsburgh Courier. After leaving Bantu World Nxumalo worked on a gold mine. He was at the same time involved in welfare work for the British Empire Service League and also freelanced for a number of European newspapers.

In 1951 Nxumalo returned to the familiar South African journalism scene and joined Drum magazine as sports editor. During this time Nxumalo, his wife and their three children lived in Orlando, which was then known as 'Dark City of New York' as it had no electricity. Nxumalo's two-roomed home was tiny. He was familiar with poverty, but managed to rise above it.

In 1952 the character of 'Mr Drum' was created for Nxumalo as a publicity stunt for his newspaper. Nxumalo would walk through the townships and the first person who identified him as Henry Nxumalo from Drum and also had a copy of the latest edition of Drum magazine would receive five pounds.

Nxumalo also made his mark as an investigative journalist. When it was rumoured that certain farmers in the Rustenburg and Bethal areas were ill-treating their labourers, Nxumalo decided to investigate these allegations and   signed up as a labourer on a farm near Bethal. He returned with a story that exposed the cruelty and the harsh conditions in which black labourers had to live on the farms. In 1954 Snyman, the farmer on whose farm he had worked was convicted of beating a labourer to death. This atrocity might never have been exposed had Nxumalo not investigated the conditions on farms.

After the Bethal expose, Nxumalo investigated a story that would catch the world's attention. He had himself arrested for infringement of the curfew regulations and was imprisoned for five days in the Johannesburg Central Prison. His experiences made a chilling story and caused an international sensation.

In early 1956 Nxumalo left Drum magazine to write his autobiography for an American publisher. Towards the end of 1956 he was investigating a white doctor who had performed illegal abortions in the Western Native Townships and under whose knife several women had died. Nxumalo was murdered before completing the investigation.

At the time of his death Nxumalo was staying with his cousin, Mrs Hlubi. She discovered his body on her way to work on the morning of Christmas Day, 1956. There were 22 stab wounds all over his head and body.


References:

This biography is an extract from the following source:

  • Sonderling, NE. 1999. New Dictionary of South African Biography, volume 2. Pretoria: Vista University. Pp175-176.