Lewis Nkosi, the First Black South African Nieman Fellow, Dies at 73

Nieman Reports, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Lewis Nkosi, the First Black South African Nieman Fellow, Dies at 73


Lewis Nkosi, one of South Africa's leading writers and the first black South African journalist to be a Nieman Fellow, died September 5th in Johannesburg after a long illness. He was 73.

As a young journalist in the 1950's, Nkosi was part of a new generation of blacks who exposed the injustices of apartheid. Writing in the legendary Drum magazine, Nkosi characterized his country's racial policies as "terribly sick" and its citizens as "terrorized" by security police.

His decision to accept a Nieman Fellowship in the Class of 1961 rested on a wrenching choice. The South African government would not give him a visa to come to Harvard unless he surrendered his citizenship. He decided it was worth it to escape apartheid and to study with journalists from around the world. He said later that "the pull of Harvard and the Nieman Foundation was such that I felt I had nothing to lose by coming to the United States."

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Nkosi, who was orphaned as a boy, arrived in Cambridge at age 23, an especially young age for a Nieman Fellow. Recalling that time during a celebration in 2008 of the Nieman Foundation's 70th anniversary, Nkosi said, "I needed a whole lot of mothers. I was very thin and the wives of the Niemans fed me and made an enormous effort to build me up."

After his Nieman year, Nkosi established his journalistic credentials in the U. …

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