Ranjith Kally

Internationally acclaimed, Durban-born photographer Ranjith Kally, has documented some of the key people and events involved in South Africa’s struggle for democracy. His pictures, dating back over 60 years, give us a glimpse into the tensions of the past, of the events that shaped our future.

Kally’s first camera, a humble Kodak Postcard, purchased for just sixpence, ignited a passion for photography that saw him quit his job at a shoe factory and pursue a career in photojournalism. He worked for two of the foremost publications of the time – the Golden City Post and Drum, where he spent nearly three decades, capturing pictures of anti-apartheid leaders like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Monty Naicker and Chief Albert Luthuli; and capturing poignant moments in South African history, including the Treason Trial, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chief Albert Luthuli, and the Rivonia Trial.

Ranjith Kally
Ranjith Kally

In 1952, Kally won third prize in an international competition held in Japan out of a field of 150,000 entries, and in 1967 he was admitted to the Royal Photographic Society, London, for a selection of portraits. His pictures have graced newspapers around the world, they are part of the Nobel Collection, are featured in school textbooks, and are depicted on two South African postage stamps, yet he only held his debut solo exhibition in 2004, at the age of 79.

In April 2013, Kally was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Literature by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in recognition of his long and prestigious career. An unsung living legend, he ranks among the most politically courageous and artistically gifted photographers of his generation. Kally’s life through the lens has left us a lasting visual legacy that will enlighten generations to come, of our fallen heroes and celebrated liberties. Kally died in Johannesburg on 6th June 2017 at the age of 91.

As a photojournalist for Drum magazine, Kally spent much of his time documenting the politics of apartheid, and through his work made an invaluable contribution to the struggle for Freedom in South Africa. Amandla, the website for Durban’s Liberation Heritage Route, published the following memorial on the passing of Ranjith Kally:

You may not know the name Ranjith Kally, but you will definitely be familiar with his work, and there’s no doubt that the names of the countless political personalities that Kally photographed will ring a bell. Kally, who worked for some thirty years as a photojournalist for Drum Magazine and its sister publication, Golden City Post, was responsible for some of our most iconic images of apartheid-era South Africa, including possibly the most famous photograph taken of former ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli, shortly before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Kally’s work was not limited purely to political news, and some of his photographs show the lighter side of life in South Africa, but as Kalim Rajab notes in reference to the book, Memory Against Forgetting, Kally’s photographs became far more focused and serious after the Shapreville Massacre in March 1960.

Other notable events covered by Kally over the course of his 60 year career include the the anti-pass campaign of 1960, the Rivonia Trial, and the reunion of former president Nelson Mandela and IFP leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, in 1991. The list goes on and on…