So this podcast series, “Through the Cracks: The Untold Story of Mbuyisa Makhubo” came out in 2016, but I didn’t discover it until a few days ago. I really wanted to tell everyone because it’s an awesome series, four episodes, great journalism, very thorough, telling a fascinating story about a missing person.
Mbuyisa Makhubo was a very ordinary teenage black boy living in Soweto, South Africa in the 1970s when he became world-famous by accident. Basically, what happened was that a 1976 youth protest against the brutal apartheid regime got out of hand and the police opened fire on the crowd, killing a twelve-year-old boy named Hector Pieterson (and a lot of other people). Mbuyisa was the one who picked up Hector after he was shot and carried him to a nearby car — a photojournalist’s — to take him to the hospital. The journalist’s photos of Mbuyisa, running with a dying Hector in his arms and Hector’s screaming, hysterical sister running next to him, were displayed in newspapers across the world. You might have seen the images yourself; they’re still famous.
The result was that Mbuyisa (who hadn’t even been attending the protest, he just happened to live on that street) became a target of South African security forces. Afraid for his life, he had to flee the country. He got a scholarship to attend a school in Nigeria, but couldn’t adjust, began deteriorating physically and mentally, and ended up on drugs and living on the streets of Lagos. Sometime in 1978, he disappeared, and his family in South Africa never heard from him again.
Then he may have resurfaced, thirty years later, alive and well in a Canadian jail. Or maybe he didn’t.
From there the story just keeps getting stranger and stranger and more and more complicated. I don’t want to say anything more for fear of spoiling things, but I wound up listening to the whole podcast in one streak, ruminating on it for hours and puzzling it over with my friends afterwards.
So yeah, listen to it.