Nathaniel Ndazana Nakasa (12 May 1937 – 14 July 1965)
On a July morning nearly half a century ago, Nat Nakasa, a black South African living in exile in New York, plummeted from a seventh-story window on Central Park West and 102nd Street in Manhattan, suffering multiple fractures and internal injuries. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Knickerbocker Hospital in Harlem. Mr. Nakasa was 28 years old.
Just 10 months earlier, he had left his home country to take a Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard University. Because he wrote articles the apartheid government abhorred, officials denied him a passport. They offered an exit permit — a one-way ticket out of the country — daring him to renounce his South African citizenship.
“If I shall leave this country and decide not to come back,” he wrote in 1964, “it will be because of a desire to avoid perishing in my own bitterness — a bitterness born of being reduced to a second-class citizen.”
With key leaders of the liberation movement, including Nelson Mandela, sent to prison, and the government cracking down on writers, Mr. Nakasa chose the exit permit. In his final column for The Rand Daily Mail, “A Native of Nowhere,” he wrote of “taking a grave step” and becoming “a stateless person, a wanderer.”
Less than a year later, he was dead.
The apartheid government wouldn’t allow his body to return home, so Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, the South African musicians then living in the New York area, and the photographer Peter Magubane collected funds from South African exiles and buried Mr. Nakasa at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y., just feet from where Malcolm X had been laid to rest five months earlier.
Over the years, journalists and Mr. Nakasa’s family had tried to bring his remains back to South Africa, but bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of funds have stymied them. Now, with the country celebrating its 20th anniversary of freedom, with the 50th anniversary of Mr. Nakasa’s death approaching, and with a 2013 biography generating renewed interest in his story, he was finally headed home.
On Aug. 15, Mr. Nakasa’s remains were exhumed, and on Aug. 16, government officials and members of the Nakasa family gathered for a public memorial service at Broadway Presbyterian Church on West 114th Street. His remains were then returned to South Africa for burial in September near his childhood home in Chesterville, a township outside Durban.
More resources on his work, legacy and funeral here.