During apartheid, South Africa’s white minority government made its goal to encourage Inkatha-ANC divisions to keep its black enemies at each others’ throats. Now, in 1990, as the government of F.W. de Klerk began negotiating with Nelson Mandela’s ANC, these divisions presented a golden opportunity for some. Using the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as their proxy, some elements within the establishment tried to destabilize the country, scuttle the negotiations, and at least delay the majority rule. Thousands of Zulus were forced out of their homes in ANC-loyal areas in Natal. The Zulus fought back violently, as police were reluctant to restore order. From July to September 1990, in one of the bloodiest clashes in modern South African history, the Zulus launched raids in the Transvaal townships, where nearly 800 were slain. In 1990 alone, over 3,000 people died as violence escalated.
A mob murder at Soweto’s Nancetield Hostel put a previously broke freelancer with obsolete cameras named Greg Marinovich on the road to international recognition. Marinovich felt as if he was “one of the circle of killers, shooting with wide-angle lens”. For the above photo of a man hacking at a burning man with a machete, Marinovich would later win a Pulitzer. A Zulu named Lindsaye Tshabalala was suspected of spying for Inkatha, and was executed by African National Congress supporters. Marinovich remembers: “This was without doubt the worst day of my life, and the trauma remains with me, despite some twenty years and a lot of coming to terms with the incident, my role and what it means to be involved in murder. This mudered happened a month after I had witnessed the one in Nancefield Hostel, and I was determined to redeem myself by not just being an observer. I neither saved him, nor redeemed myself, though at least I did not act shamefully.”
Violent nature of the image garnered ire from American editors when it was distributed via AP wire. Police approached the AP Johannesburg bureau to ask the photographer hand over his pictures so that they could identify the killers. Marinovich was convinced that this was unfair: the police did not request the pictures from Nancetield where the perpetrators are their Inkatha allies. Marinovich didn’t want to hand in his other negatives from Tshabalala murder, and fortunately for him, the police were unable to locate and subpoena one Sebastian Balic, the pseudonym Marinovich used for his photographs. He fled South Africa before further subpoenas could arrive.
The government saw the violence as an vindication of its predictions that the ANC would not be able to govern South Africa. But violence or not, apartheid was dying. In 1992, the Boipatong massacre derailed the negotiations briefly, but they resumed, and South Africa slowly crawled back from pariah-hood. In the same year, it was permitted to compete in the Olympics following the repeal of all apartheid laws the previous year. In 1993, it announced that it had permanently halted its nuclear program, whose very existence once denied vehemently. F.W. de Klerk and Mandela shared a Nobel peace prize in 1994, shortly before the all-race elections formally ended four-decade long apartheid.