Pioneering Cape Argus photographer Willie de Klerk dies

Cape Town – Willie de Klerk, the first black photographer at the Cape Argus, died on Sunday. He was 81.

The retired photographer’s health deteriorated over the past few years following a severe stroke in 2017.

De Klerk hailed from Port Elizabeth, where he initially worked as a studio photographer, which paved the way for him to get a job as a photographer at the Golden City Post, then at Drum in Johannesburg and later at the Cape Herald and Sunday Times before joining the Cape Argus in 1979. He remained at this newspaper until a stroke forced him to retire in 1994.

I recall De Klerk telling me during an interview in 1998 why he wanted to work for newspapers.

“I started out selling newspapers for the Evening Post in Port Elizabeth as a boy, where I discovered what an enormous impact the press had on people. Realising that a good news picture can capture the essence of a news story, I wanted to become a photojournalist, which really was an impossible dream, because non-whites did not count in careers like that.”

Former Cape Argus picture editor Jim McLagan described De Klerk as old school.

"Although Willie was an all-rounder who was good at sport, portraits and events, he showed a keen interest in the riots of the 1980s. And because he was very experienced, Willie was one of the leading press photographers covering upheavals during that turbulent decade. His picture of the charred remains of a necklace victim with a raised hand remains one of the classic images of that violent era,” McLagan said.

De Klerk’s photographs won him numerous awards, such as the Shell Ilford runner-up award for Press Photographer of the Year for three consecutive years (1985-1987) and a Best South African Sports Photographer Award. He received certificates from the Dutch Stichtung’s World Press Association for sport, news and people pictures.

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Picture taken by Willie de Klerk when the UDF was launched in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain in 1985. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Some of his photos appeared in prestigious magazines such as Life and Time, and others were exhibited in the Van Gogh gallery in Amsterdam.

De Klerk was also privileged to get accreditation to cover the royal wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and was the only South African press photographer to cover the re-opening of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

He leaves behind his widow, Maureen, to whom he was married for 56 years, three daughters in Adele, Brigitte and Cindy, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The funeral service will be at 9am on Saturday at Saint Margaret Anglican Church in Hopkins Street, Parow.


Cape Argus

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