Daniel T. Makata: South African Photographer

A guest post by Malcolm Corrigall*

Daniel T. Makata, popularly known as Dan Tleketle, has had a fascinating and varied career as a photographer, grave-digger, editor, businessman, community organizer, and sports administrator. Dan was born in Newclare, Johannesburg on the 29th September, 1942, and his family moved to Orlando East in 1943, a township South West of Johannesburg that in 1963 became part of what was named Soweto. His extraordinary life and career provides a window into overlooked histories of photographic practice in Soweto and beyond.

Daniel T. Makata. © Malcolm Corrigall.

Dan became interested in photography at a very young age. In a context where black South Africans were denied the opportunity to study photography at technical colleges and universities, Dan instead pursued a number of alternative opportunities for photographic education. He was introduced to photography by a schoolmate at primary school, Frank Ngwako Mogano, who lent him a Kodak Brownie camera. Using this borrowed camera and his own film, Dan began taking pictures of people in his neighbourhood. After receiving deposits, he would take the negatives to a business on North Street to be developed, and would later deliver the processed photographs to his customers in exchange for the outstanding balance. During this period, he taught himself how to correctly expose pictures using a process of trial and error. As a youth he was also mentored by a local press photographer, Moffat Siyefana Zungo, who worked for The World newspaper (formerly known as The Bantu World) and was widely respected as an exceptional sports photographer. Moffat encouraged Dan to buy a camera of his own and to start photographing weddings for the social pages of The World. Along with friend and fellow photographer Mike Mzilene, Dan enrolled on a correspondence course with the New York Institute of Photography. Always looking for opportunities to increase his knowledge, Dan approached Hans Harms, a German photographer who ran the School of Photographic Arts in central Johannesburg during the 1960s, who agreed to run special classes for Dan and some of his associates.

As well as being a quick and determined learner, Dan was a natural teacher, and he was keen to share his photographic knowledge with others. Dan became active in the Orlando YMCA (which before 1962 was run as the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre). The Orlando YMCA was a fully autonomous organization run by local black residents of Soweto. In its early days its leadership was dominated by community elders. As a self-described “rabble rouser,” and a “little Malema,”[1] Dan established an activities committee in order to challenge the inefficacy of the YMCA’s leadership in appealing to young people. One activity, which Dan believed would draw in a younger crowd, was photography, and so around 1965 he established the Orlando YMCA Photographic club, also referred to as the Y Photoclub. He served as the chairman for several years before an enforced absence from South Africa led him to relinquish his role, after which Eric Mani took over (see below). The club organized group outings to places like Mofolo Park in Soweto, where club members were set photographic assignments to complete. They also organized a number of photographic exhibitions in the 1960s. I have not yet located any archival collections relating to the Orlando YMCA photographic club but I am conducting ongoing research to try and locate former club members. In South Africa black photographers have historically not received institutional support and very little work by black photographers has been preserved in formal archival collections. This is especially true of work produced in the colonial and apartheid periods. Much has been lost or destroyed, whilst other work might be located in personal and family collections.

Photograph or the Orlando YMCA, where Dan established the Orlando YMCA Photographic Club around 1965. Photograph © Malcolm Corrigall.

According to Dan, the Orlando YMCA Photographic Club later expanded beyond the immediate locale of Orlando and was renamed the Soweto Photographic Club. In 1982 Dan was also instrumental in the establishment of the Black Photographers’ Association of South Africa and lectured on photography at the Soweto chapter of the Association. This group was formed at a time when a number of photography cooperatives emerged across the country, that were explicitly based around anti-apartheid political imperatives and democratic principles of education.

Dan also played a crucial role in the expansion of the photographic industry in Soweto. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s he and some business partners established Soweto’s first ‘same day’ photographic laboratory in Orlando West, Afro-Photo Laboratories, which Dan was responsible for managing as CEO. His business partners included a photographer named Kosini Nkosi, a businessman and former member of the Orlando YMCA Photographic Club named Sidney Mahlangu, and another businessman named Ramashu. Dan was later approached by Kodak to set up and run a ‘one hour’ photographic laboratory in Diepkloof, Soweto, named Photo King. This was a successful enterprise and Dan was able to open a second branch in Johannesburg. However, in 1986 Kodak announced it was withdrawing from South Africa as a result of pressure from the international anti-apartheid movement.[2]

Alongside his involvement in photographic clubs and associations, Dan also forged a career as a press photographer and journalist. At one stage he was a darkroom assistant for Drum and Post, where he was the favoured choice of staff photographers Peter Magubane and Ernest Cole. In the mid-1960s he was appointed editor and photographer for the Sesotho language edition of Bona magazine. On one fateful assignment, he was sent to Lesotho to cover the wedding of a celebrity. On attempting to return to South Africa after completing the job, he was denied entry by a South African Border official, who saw that Dan was classified as Sotho on his pass book, and, following the racist logic of the Bantustan policy, deemed that Dan had to remain in Lesotho, despite his having been born in South Africa. Due to this traumatic incident, Dan remained in Lesotho for a number of years. He became the senior photographer for the Lesotho Department of Information and Broadcasting during the premiership of Prime Minister Morena Leabua Jonathan, and was eventually able to return to South Africa in 1970 where he was given the role of Chief Photographer at Post and Drum. Sadly, a lot of Dan’s material is lost, as a suitcase full of negatives went missing when he was returning to South Africa.

Dan later went on to become Chief photographer at the World and Weekend World newspapers. He played the crucial role in convincing the paper’s editors to publish Sam Nzima’s iconic image of Hector Peterson during the Soweto uprising of 1976, despite their misgivings that the image was too incendiary. He also continued his commitment to teaching by introducing a program whereby press-drivers were trained as photographers, paving the way for the careers of photojournalists such as Mabu Nkademeng and Thomas Khoza.

Dan has also been successful in a number of fields beyond photography. He was the founder and long-serving coach of South Africa’s first multiracial Basketball team, the Hawks, was which also established at the Orlando YMCA. He co-founded the Soweto American Basketball Association and was the first democratically elected vice-chairman of the Transvaal Amateur Basketball Association. He has also had a successful career in marketing and the business world, and has owned and managed several businesses. He continues to take photographs for his church and is a grandfather of eight. His many achievements are a reminder of the incredible contribution that Sowetan based photographers have made to South African history and culture.

* Malcolm Corrigall is a postdoctoral research fellow with the South African Research Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture at the University of Johannesburg. His PhD, awarded by SOAS in 2016, focussed on the history of the Chinese Camera Club of South Africa. He has published articles in « African Arts » and « Safundi » and is currently researching the hidden history of black and multiracial camera clubs in Apartheid South Africa.

[1] A reference to Julius Malema, South African politician and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

[2] For more information on Kodak’s withdrawal from the South African Market http://richardknight.homestead.com/files/eastmankodak.htm

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