JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Juda Ngwenya, a former South African photographer for the Reuters news agency, was remembered on Wednesday for skillfully recording some of the most pivotal moments in his country's transition from white racist rule to multi-racial democracy. He was also remembered as a friend, a mentor and a smart dresser.
Several hundred people gathered at a memorial service for Ngwenya at the Rhema Bible Church in Johannesburg, where some colleagues repeatedly pressed the shutter on their cameras in a staccato salute. Ngwenya, 65, died Oct. 19 after suffering a stroke, leaving his wife Mwelase and five children.
"It is heartbreaking to say goodbye to a special person like Juda Ngwenya," South Africa's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said in remarks delivered by his spokesman.
"Each shutter of his camera became an unstained record of truth," Ramaphosa said in his message. "This was a life dedicated to the cause of humanity and justice."
Ngwenya photographed conflict during South Africa's apartheid years as well as times of great hope, including when Nelson Mandela voted in the first all-race elections on April 27, 1994. Mandela was elected president and Ngwenya later gave him a framed photograph of the moment when the anti-apartheid leader stood, beaming and raising his right arm, after casting his ballot.
Ngwenya also covered conflict in Liberia and Nigeria, violent land seizures in Zimbabwe and other big African stories. He photographed people of all kinds, including the young: children playing soccer with an old ball in a Soweto schoolyard, young South African boys receiving medical care after a traditional initiation ceremony and an 11-year-boy with AIDS as he addressed a conference about the disease.
He became a freelance photographer after his Reuters career, working for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
"Juda was a smart dresser, taking pride in disproving the myth that photojournalists are an untidy bunch who do not take care of themselves," Reuters photographer Siphiwe Sibeko said in a tribute in South Africa's Mail and Guardian publication.
"I remember once struggling to file my pictures while covering floods in Mozambique in 2001," Sibeko wrote. "I was working for The Star at the time but felt no qualms about going to Juda's hotel to ask for help. He did not mind being woken up in the middle of the night and, using his more sophisticated equipment, filed my pictures to the newspaper."
Mallory Saleson, a Voice of America correspondent during the final years of apartheid in South Africa, also recalled Ngwenya's polite professionalism in the bustle of a competitive story.
"He was a pleasure to work with — and just a nice person and good colleague," Saleson wrote in an email. "Never gave me a hard time when I needed to maneuver into a space to get sound."
Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris