The life and death of photojournalist Abdul Shariff

Obituary of Abdul Shariff

Newspaper clipping about the death of South African photographer, Abdul Shariff in 1994. (Impact Visuals Photograph Collection, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center)

Abdul Shariff, a South African photojournalist, was shot in the back and killed while photographing an African National Congress delegation visit to Katlehong, South Africa, on January 9, 1994. Shariff was 31.

A member of the Impact Visuals co-operative, Shariff was hit by fire from a hostel occupied by Inkatha supporters and apparently directed at Cyril Ramaphosa and Joe Slovo, according to an obituary from the Southern African Report (SAR). 

Shariff, a free-lance photographer on assignment for the AP, was in a crowd of journalists surrounding the dignitaries on the muddy dirt road when young men carrying AK-47 automatic rifles began shooting from the narrow paths between houses. Shariff attempted to run across a small clearing – maybe for a better view. Witnesses said he was killed by a single shot in the back. The bullet apparently went through his body and dented the Nikon F4 camera hanging around his neck. Shariff was born in Verulam in the South African state of Natal. He became a news photographer after studying at the University of Natal-Pietermaritzburg.

Shariff was known for documenting the violence and oppression of apartheid, often focusing on the perspective of township residents and black workers. He had worked for Impact Visuals for three years, originally as part of the photo collective Afrapix. From his early documentary projects for activist student publications, the Natal Indian Congress and the UDF, Shariff’s photography in the last few years has appeared regularly in South Africa, Europe, Canada and the US, in major news publications that include The Weekly Mail, Der Spiegel, Newsweek and the New York Times, as well as our own. “I see my pictures contributing to the documentation of our history,” he wrote shortly before his death. Shariff had fought against apartheid all his life, starting with the student political movement while in high school, where he was a coordinator of the nationwide school boycotts.

Photographs and correspondence to and from Shariff documenting his work for Afrapix are open to researchers as part of the Impact Visuals Photograph Collection at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

Join us on October 5 at 11 AM, as we award the fourth Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights to the Committee to Protect Journalists.