Family Legacy Inspires Kean Professors' Film About Pioneering South African Journalist

11.27.17

In the 1950s and ’60s, South Africa’s Drum magazine attracted an avid following with its candid reports about township life under apartheid. No reporter was better known than Henry Nxumalo, or “Mr. Drum” to the magazine’s readers. Nxumalo’s daughter, Josephine Norward, who teaches social work at Kean University, was inspired by his legacy to develop a film exploring the life and work of Nxumalo and his colleagues at the magazine. Children of Drum, is co-produced by Norward, Kean English Professor Daniel Gover and Larry Tung.

“I wanted to tell my father’s story to a larger audience,” said Norward. “Journalism and communication students at Kean can learn the ethos of social responsibility and truthful reporting. They can learn that courage, creativity and commitment to social justice place journalists at the forefront of social activism, as the voice for the oppressed.”

Nxumalo was one of the first black writers at Drum. Originally hired to cover sports and entertainment, he was more interested in the atrocities of the apartheid system.

Nxumalo’s groundbreaking investigative journalism led him to infiltrate Johannesburg’s central prison, known as “The Fort,” to uncover inmate abuse. There he experienced beatings, forced labor and the infamous Tausa dance, which forced black prisoners to expose themselves to jailers in order to prove that they were not hiding contraband. Nxumalo was murdered on New Year's Eve in 1957 while investigating suspicious deaths at an abortion clinic in Sophiatown, a suburb west of Johannesburg.

The Children of Drum production team met at Kean, where Norward has taught since 1991. The film’s writer and co-producer, Dan Gover, teaches African, World and English literature at Kean. The film’s director is former Kean professor Larry Tung. Tung’s many films include: Daughters from China [2002], American Patriot and Revolutionary: The Hannah Caldwell Story [2006], Envisioning Justice [2008], Arts and the City [2008], Welcome to My Queer Bookstore [2009] and Proud Shanghai [2011]. Norward, Gover and Tung travelled to Johannesburg in 2014 and 2015 to interview Drum journalists, their children and family members.

Children of Drum explores the development of South African journalism from the 1950s, when Drum magazine covered the struggle against the racist apartheid regime, to the political changes that have helped shape the state of journalism in South Africa today. Drum is still published and current editor, Thandi Mthethwa, praises Nxumalo and his colleagues in the film. 

“This was a breed of journalists that were very fearless,” said Mthethwa. “They were going to write articles that gave voice to the voiceless.”

On Wednesday, November 29, Children of Drum will premiere at Columbia University Teachers College’s African Diaspora International Film Festival. Kean University will host the New Jersey premiere of Children of Drum at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 6 in the Human Rights Institute, room 207. A question and answer session with the film’s creative team and a reception will follow the screening.

 

A Drum magazine cover from 1956. 

 

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