A Man Who Sentenced Himself To A Lifetime Behind The Lens


Bongani Mnguni is a renowned photographer who developed his passion for photography through books which he used in expanding his knowledge as far back as when he was a boy.

Now 63, Mnguni said he was born to capture historic moments, a destiny he made sure to fulfill.

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“Back then, only one school taught photography and it was in Pretoria. It was for whites only.

“I used to buy photography books for 3c and 5c, and I fell in love with photography,” said Mnguni.

“My first camera was an Instamatic. I started out as a street photographer, taking family portraits. I called myself an express photographer and I had a dark room at home.”

In 1972, Bongani Mnguni had an offer from photographer Moffat Zungu who offered him a freelance job at The World. This job initiated him into the world of newspapers where he excelled with the help of his passion and prior knowledge of the streets.

“I became one of the best junior photographers. I was streetwise and knew what I was doing. I was passionate about my work.”

Having seen it all, Mnguni reminisced about 1976, when photographers were frequently harassed by the apartheid police.

“I put my negatives in plastic bags and dug a trench in the yard at home. I then put on cement and buried them there because had the police found them, they would have seized my work.”

The lifelong photographer has worked for a lot of media houses such as The World, Sowetan, City Press, The Voice, Sunday World and The Star. He covered the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976 and the political war between Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC in the early 1990s.

“I still do not have a qualification in photography. I went to France to study for six months but officials said there was nothing they could teach me because my work was amazing.

“I became a lecturer. I had a marathon exhibition in France and Germany.”

Being unemployed at the moment, Bongani Mnguni spends most of his free time inside his home-based office in Horizon Park, Roodepoort on the West Rand, scanning and editing his portfolio with his pictures from the 70s.

Proudly hung on the walls of his small office are pictures of the 1976 riots and his portraits.

“There are many pictures here. It will take me three years to complete. I want to publish a book. I also plan to open a photography school,” he said while reliving some of the touching moments of his career.

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“One particular picture is forever in my heart. The story was about a stepfather who killed the boy’s mother, raped his sister and murdered her. He then locked the boy in the shack for four days with the bodies.”

Mguni will always be one of the most respected photographers in South Africa and the world at large.