Peter Magubane’s Midas Touch

The unfolding story of photographer Peter MagubaneI first met Peter Magubane on his 84th birthday. Although I was half his age, we were both mentored by the same man, the late Jim Bailey.

For Peter it was 1949 when as a 17 year old he had left school early to get into the ranks of Drum. He started as Bailey’s driver and in typical fashion the eccentric Drum owner and publisher Bailey, only 32 years old at the time assisted Magubane in his emergence as a photographer.

I met Jim Bailey two years before his death in 2000 at the age of 80. I was 19 years old and both his driver and friend. Bailey impressed a love of the country and her people on me and channeled me towards writing.  

Bailey a fighter pilot in World War 2 had found his own transformation in the speak-easy’s or shebeens as they were called of South Africa. He used his wealth and position to purchase Drum magazine from a South African fast bowler and transform it into a liberated gathering of unique people. Met up against the fascism of apartheid, Can Themba in reference to Dickens called this Drum era of South Africa, “the best of times, the worst of times.”

Yet the era produced the iconic work that has never been matched. Lewis Nkosi later reflected on the inspiration as “where the now is all there is.”

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