There is a saying that goes: “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.”
I am what I am because I was inspired, motivated and mentored by Juda Ngwenya. He was a friend, a brother and a father figure rolled into one — someone who contributed immensely to the person I am today, both professionally and socially.
A kind, loyal and a very loving person, Juda did not become just my friend but also adopted my entire family.
I know many other mutual friends who will say the same about him. None of us expected him to go so soon and we are all still grappling to come to terms with his departure.
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Juda had respect for everyone, regardless of their status. He mentored and encouraged a lot of photographers, both locally and beyond South Africa’s borders, earning him a lot of respect everywhere he went.
He represented Reuters with distinction; I would go so far as to say he was the face of the company in its coverage of the African story.
Juda was a smart dresser, taking pride in disproving the myth that photojournalists are an untidy bunch who do not take care of themselves.
I cannot recall the exact year I met Bra Juda, but even before that I knew of him because I tracked his work closely – and with awe – during the political turbulence of the late 1990s.
Like many other aspiring photographers at the time, I looked up to him and aspired to emulate him.
I remember once struggling to file my pictures while covering floods in Mozambique in 2001. I was working for The Star at the time but felt no qualms about going to Juda’s hotel to ask for help. He did not mind being woken up in the middle of the night and, using his more sophisticated equipment, filed my pictures to the newspaper.
Not only did those pictures make front page the following day, they also won me my first major photography award, the Mondi newspaper award in 2001, putting my name on the map in our profession. I will always be grateful to Bra Juda for that.
I will miss the days I spent in his home office, where he would show me the rich archive of work he had done over the years, including the historic image of Nelson Mandela after he cast his vote in the 1994 election.
Trying to take over the mantle from Bra Juda has been no easy task. As I remind myself each day, I have very big shoes to fill.
Juda is survived by his wife, Mwelase, and five children — Vusi, Bathabile, Sibusiso, Ntombikayise and Nkanyezi.
May his soul rest in peace.
Siphiwe Sibeko works for Reuters