A Multimedia Presentation of
The Digital Journalist

He is African

By Kenny Irby,
Visual Journalism Group Leader at the Poynter Institute

On the surface he is just what he says that he wants people to see him as "an ordinary guy hard working guy." "I am an African."

Themba Hadebe, the 32 year-old, Johannesburg, South Africa based, Associated Press staff photographer. He is a '98 World Press winner in the spot news category and the eldest for five siblings, raised in the hard working community of Thokoza, some 20-30 kilometer east of Johannesburg.

Like most ordinary South African children, he was energetic and curious, but he never wanted to be in pictures. "I guest what made me a little extraordinary was the fact that I always wanted to take the picture, not be in it," recalls Hadebe. His real love affair with photography began at the age of 13 when his stepfather gave him a first camera as a gift. "Man, I loved that camera," Hadebe explained, "I would take pictures of anything going on around me, that meant something to me."

Conflicted by the mixed messages in his county caused by the apartheid government and by his mother and teacher. Because of the cost and family financial challenges his mother discouraged his photography pursuits. "I needed to make money, it was that simple" On the otherhand, his teachers and his heart told him that he could not become a photographer. For Hadebe, "the serious, financial problems and challenges were the priority."

Look closer and you will see the Habebe that he wants you to know. He is African and his journey is not ordinary. The experience of his life are dramatically captured in the May 8, 1996 --- Statement on Behalf of the African National Congress, on the occasion of the adoption by the Constitutional Assembly of The Republic of South Africa's Constitutional Bill, by (then vice-president) Thabo Mbeki "I have seen the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had imposed themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy. I know what it signifies when race and colour are used to determine who is human and who subhuman."

A closer look reveals a rather extraordinary journey for a man who wants desperately to tell the true story of his people. "I am an African and I want people to see the positive stories of my country." "In my town, I saw James Nachtwey and David Turnley, lots of photographers came to cover the bad trouble, but I was inspired by Peter Magubane and Alf Khumalo." After reading Magubane's story in the library in 1993, Hadebe decided to stand up to the family disapproval of his career choice. "I want to tell a more complete side of our story, in southern Africa like they started."

He attended the Market Photo Workshop, and was mentored by Sunday Independent photographer, TJ Lemon and made his living "doing weddings. and anything that people will pay me for." He later landed a trainee position in 1994 at The Mail and Guardian then joined The Johannesburg Star in 1995.

In May 1999 he joined the Associated Press and has traveled extensively in southern African and was most recently in the Congo.

Upon closer inspection, one would learn that after winning the World Press honor in 1998, which he says, "was an unbelievable experience that boosted my confidence," he attended the World Press Masters course in 2000 which was by his account "quite and experience and it gave me another perspective. I was with people that do respect photography, unlike in Africa." I was exposed to the European perspective and the fine art influence."

Hadebe loves to learn and his works reflect a commitment to lifelong learning. And in his own unique was, it show that--- he is African.

Kenny Irby is the Visual Journalism Group Leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, an international school for journalists. He is a photographer, picture editor and educator and teaches visual journalism course around the world. Kenny and Themba met in November of 1998. While on a teaching trip to in Johannesburg at the Institute for Advancement in Journalism, he interviewed Themba and was so impressed with his potential that he deliver Themba's work to Vin Alabiso, Sr. VP/ Executive Photo Editor at the Associated Press.

Enter Themba Hadebe's Photo Presentation