It is almost impossible to imagine that 'Bra' Alf Kumalo, the man with a camera around his neck, a twinkle in his eye, and a plan up his sleeve against all odds, has passed on. The dapper man in a tailored tuxedo - with a top hat tilted stylishly over his one eye - moved through several decades of South African history capturing everything in his lens, as if being arrested and assaulted by apartheid policemen meant nothing.
Armed only with his camera and fiery determination, he captured images that for more than six decades, appeared all over the pages of Drum Magazine, the Star, the Sunday Times, the Sunday World, and several other publications - too numerous to mention - both locally and abroad.
The same should be said of the awards he had won over the years. He himself lost count - but etched into his memory was the day he received a telegraph at the Drum offices in Fleet Street in London to say he had won first prize and second prize in a competition and would be receiving a car
."Imagine," he would later laugh, "a black man with a car of his own in those days!"
His passing away from cancer earlier this week, at the age of 82, symbolises the end of an era - an era which began with a small boy who turned floor polish tins into the turning wheels of a miniature car and ended with the closing of a sparkling set
He was like a walking photographic encyclopedia of our history - from the Women's March in 1956, to the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, to the Youth Uprising of 1976. While most photographers spend a lifetime aspiring to one iconic or immortal image, Alf made it his business to produce an endless collection thereof.
That's because his camera was his third eye and went with him absolutely everywhere. Even a few years ago - in his late 70’s - when we were working on the book, he would meet me for an interview , and without fail, there would be the worn leather strap of an old-style camera dangling with loyalty around his neck, waiting with its owner to catch the next historic - or poetically ordinary - moment.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo, Desmond Tutu, Helen Joseph, Walter and Albertina Sisulu - these are but some of the faces that hang on the metaphorical walls of his illustrious career. A young Winnie milks a cow, a solemn-faced Tambo pays respects at the open caskets of the 1985 Lesotho massacre victims, and Steve Biko clutches a poster at the funeral of Chief Albert Luthuli.
Hardly limiting himself to the political upheavals of that time, Alf spent endless hours in the darkroom bringing to life his jaw-dropping images of people like Muhammad Ali, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and soccer icon Pele.
Added to this veritable hall of fame are the images of ordinary life, images which speak volumes about Alf's poignant take on the world: a small girl on a dusty township road with her puppy in a blanket strapped to her back, or a shebeen queen carefully mixing drinks in her make-shift tavern.
But long before all of this, long before Alf Kumalo was to become one of the greatest photographers of all time, he had already discovered the power of his own creativity. As a small boy of seven, he was sent to his uncle's farm to look after the cattle. There, he was taught the rural art of stick-fighting by some older herd-boys who regularly hit him with force on the knuckles to teach him how it was done.
"Whenever I could, I stayed home and made wire cars using round floor-polish tins for the wheels," he told me, "then one of the older boys asked me to make a wire car for him too. He ran off to call the others, and after that, they taught me stick fighting without hurting me. I had earned my status."
In the many hours of interviews I did with Alf for his biography, I kept waiting for the slightest inkling of cynicism or bitterness to show through.
Instead, I sat face-to-face with a passionate storyteller who smiled with the delight of a schoolboy when describing how he had hidden his camera under his hat to avoid confiscation by the authorities, or faked a heart condition so that he didn't have to sleep in a jail cell when arrested on political grounds in Lusaka en route to the Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa.
His passing away from cancer earlier this week, at the age of 82, symbolises the end of an era - an era which began with a small boy who turned floor polish tins into the turning wheels of a miniature car and ended with the closing of a sparkling set of eyes that had seen the best and the worst of the human condition.
Bra Alf, there are no words to describe what your passing away means to those who knew you and loved you, but the images you leave in your wake are a treasure to every South African past, present and future. You will be sorely missed for a long time still.
Tanya Farber is a Journalist, Author, Editor and Media Consultant. She has written a book on Alf Kumalo termed Through My Lens.