Through the Cracks

The untold story of Mbuyisa Makhubu

Do you know who Mbuyisa Makhubu is? His tortured face stares out from Sam Nzima's famous photograph of the 1976 Soweto Uprising but little is known about the tall, lanky man in dungarees carrying a wounded Hector Pieterson. This four part podcast series investigates his journey from the most wanted man in Soweto, into exile and to his disappearance in 1978.

For decades speculation swirled about what happened to Makhubu until in 2013 it was revealed that a man languishing in a Canadian prison could be the iconic June 16 hero. This tumultuous story is told through the voices of those who were close to Makhubu and through exclusive documents and archive images. This investigation also delicately uncovers a long buried family secret which may hold the key to whether forty years later, Mbuyisa Makhubu has been found.

Chapter 1

"The Hell Was Loose"

During the Soweto Uprising on 16 June 1976, photographer Sam Nzima captured the iconic image of 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying a dying boy, Hector Pieterson. While the photograph has endured, little is known about Makhubu and what became of him. Episode One in this series revisits the Soweto Uprising through the voices of the student leaders, Pieterson's sister and the photographer who captured the image. (Photograph courtesy of Sam Nzima)


The chaos of June 16 1976 as documented by South African media. Sam Nzima's iconic photograph of Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying Hector Pieterson appeared on the front page of The World newspaper on that day. It made its way around the globe illustrating the true extent of the government repression at the time.

The leaders of the student uprising give their first-hand accounts of June 16 1976:

"One thing that I regret, even today, is having to lead children out of the classroom to be killed."

- Seth Mazibuko

"One of the police dogs was let loose to charge at the students. That police dog did not emerge from the crowd."

- Murphy Morobe

Relive June 16 1976 through archive footage of the day (copyright SABC News):

Chapter 2

Walking to Jamaica

As a result of Sam Nzima's photograph, Mbuyisa Makhubu became the most wanted man in Soweto. He fled into exile to Botswana and then on to Nigeria where he disappeared. Episode Two tracks Makhubu's journey between 1976 and 1978 through the voices of those who were with him at the time, his handwritten notes and other documentation that paint a picture of his poor health, mental instability and desperate homesickness. The speculation about his fate, from drowning to walking across oceans and voodoo, is also explored.


Mbuyisa's sister Ntsiki Makhubu remembers the day he left South Africa.

During Mbuyisa Makhubu's stay in Nigeria, he suffered medically and by all accounts was miserable. He repeatedly wrote to the school principal and student counsellor complaining about the food and accommodation at the college in Warri. The correspondence below illustrates the extent of Mbuyisa's unhappiness and paint a picture of a deeply troubled individual.

"I fear for my health which is deteriorating fast, due to insufficient food and non variety in the food... Since I can not get better food in any other school, I would be happy to leave the country for another school."

- Mbuyisa Makhubu

"I regret to inform you that I do not know the whereabouts of Mr Mbuyisa Makhubu. He left this college since last year June and has not returned."

- Principal P. H. Davis

Mickey Tsagae and Jabulani Ndlela were the last known people to see Mbuyisa Makhubu alive. Mickey remembers how one morning in January 1979, he went for a jog and when he returned, Mbuyisa was gone.

A rare photograph of Mbuyisa Makhubu at the Warri college in Nigeria in 1977. The image has been supplied by his dorm mate Ben Oligbo and has never been published before.

Chapter 3

Mbuyisa Discovered?

After nearly forty years of mystery and intrigue about what may have happened to Mbuyisa Makhubu, new hope is rekindled in 2013. A man is discovered languishing in a Canadian prison and authorities suspect it may be the iconic June 16 hero. Episode Three follows the dramatic rollercoaster ride of the Makhubu family as they try to establish whether the man known as Victor Vinnetou is their long-lost relative. This journey is dictated by buried family skeletons, political shenanigans and deceit. It includes exclusive transcripts detailing the testimony of Vinnetou at a hearing in December 2015.


Victor Vinnetou arrived in Canada on a fake Zambian passport in 1988. He was arrested in Toronto in 2004 and detained at a facility in Lindsay. For a decade, he refused to cooperate with officials but then on 30 December 2015, Vinnetou appeared before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Details about his life came tumbling out. He was released from detention on 13 January 2016.

To read the full transcripts of the hearings click on the images below:

"Member: One question before I bring in counsel. Are you Mbuyisa Makhubu?
Person Concerned: No, I am not."

"My own sense of you when you testified on that day is that you testified lucidly, coherently, intelligently, and articulated, and there was no indication that there was some incapacity on your part or that you did not understand the nature of the proceedings."

- Member of the Board

Chapter 4

Lingering Mystery

Is it him or isn't it him? Some members of the Makhubu family and some politicians still maintain Victor Vinnetou is indeed Mbuyisa Makhubu. Others rubbish the suggestion. Episode Four investigates by weighing up the facts and through the interpretation of forensic experts. It also explores why no one – absolutely no one – in government will speak about this story. There are even allegations of death threats and cover-ups.


As speculation persists about whether Victor Vinnetou is indeed Mbuyisa Makhubu, a second DNA test is being attempted with Mbuyisa's son Thato.

Facial comparison expert Dr Tobias Houlton from Wits University Department of Anatomical Sciences did an in-depth comparison of images of the two men.

"The report thus lends moderate support to the subject named Victor Vinnetou being Mbuyisa Makhubu."

- Dr Tobias Houlton

Read the full report here:

Mbuyisa's cousin Mbali Simelane continues to campaign for the lost hero to be returned home.

Through the Cracks: The Untold Story of Mbuyisa Makhubu

Project Credits

Research: Mandy Wiener and Ziyanda Ngcobo

Multimedia Production: Christa Eybers

Audio Production: Pieter Theron

Web: Allan Kent, Barry Roodt and Nicola van Niekerk

June 16 archive footage: Copyright SABC News

EWN would like to extend a special thank you to veteran photographer Sam Nzima for his involvement.

Published June 16, 2016. Copyright © EWN 2016