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More About Ramakatane - Lesotho in Photography

More Background information on Mr. M.T. Ramkatane

Provided by the Photography Legacy Project

Mr. Ramakatane as a young high school student soon learnt that taking pictures was a lucrative business. He still has the brownie camera and his first photograph which he sold for 25 cents. Slowly, slowly he built a up a business. As the oldest, much of the proceeds in this period went to support a family of eight siblings with their education and survival.

In 1958 he came to Soweto in South Africa to complete his schooling. It is here his life took a dramatic turn. He continued working as a freelance photographer and was soon caught in the political and social fast train of South African black life. He was a talented football player and played for the famous Orlando Pirates until he injured his hip. He photographed the Sharpeville massacre with Peter Magubane, hiding in a 44 gallon drum. He recorded the events that changed world opinion about South Africa. He was shot and injured in that dramatic day and left for dead. His family who came to identify him, found him lying on a slab in the mortuary. He had been shot in both legs, and his a bullet grazed his head. He still has a bullet in his leg. When they said his name, he woke up from his concussion! He somehow in all the mayhem managed to retrieve his film and his photographs were sent to the United Nations where they were published. (Sadly these negatives were burnt in the fire two years ago housing his archive.) This incurred the wrath of the South African state and he was a politically marked man thereafter. He spent 4 months in detention and was a Rivonia treason trialist with Nelson Mandela and others. Like the others on trial, he was expecting the death penalty. The defence lawyer at the time, George Bizos when he found out that Ramakatane was a Lesotho citizen, pleaded for his acquittal and facilitated his extradition back to his mother country. Ramakatane was spared a life on Robben Island and picked up his camera again shortly thereafter.

In Lesotho he set up a famous studio in the city centre of the capital, Maseru called City Centre Studios. It is here where thousands of ordinary Lesotho citizens sat for their portraits. His large collection is a vast body of social history which includes, migrant workers, their wives (a common trend during the time when most able bodied men from Lesotho went to the South African mines), couples, babies, and family portraits. In 1965 he also became the official Royal Family photographer, a position he still holds today. The activist in Ramakatane drove him to edit and produce a magazine called Public Eye. An article he wrote questioning what the government is doing to avert poverty of the people of Lesotho led to him being held in maximum prison for two years without before being released. Ramakatane returned to his studio, taking portraits of the people and the royal family, and plying his entrepreunurial skills as well.