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To Our Readers: Sep. 12, 1994

3 minute read
Elizabeth Valk Long

As TIME’s Johannesburg bureau chief for the past five years, Scott MacLeod has seen more than his share of tragedy. But nothing prepared him for the devastating news in July that a colleague, 33-year-old South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, had killed himself. Carter was famous in South Africa for his fearless coverage of deadly township violence, and he had become internationally known for his Pulitzer prizewinning photo of a vulture coolly eyeing an emaciated Sudanese child struggling toward a feeding station. “Few journalists saw as much violence and trauma as he did,” says MacLeod. Shocked by Carter’s suicide, MacLeod determined “to understand as best I could the complexities behind his tragic end.”

The result is this week’s unusual tale of a troubled man’s life and death. In any given issue of TIME, we include, of course, many stories that are driven by news headlines — this week’s account of the I.R.A. cease-fire in Northern Ireland, for example. Other stories, like our cover on the ominous resurgence of infectious diseases, reflect broader trends that we may have been tracking and developing for weeks. Occasionally we go back to a seemingly small event of months ago, briefly noted at the time, that strikes us as ripe with human drama and moral implications, worthy of detailed digging and sober reflection. The suicide of Kevin Carter was such an event.

In researching the article, MacLeod interviewed Carter’s family, close friends and colleagues, as well as experts on suicide; in the process he encountered several other journalists in pursuit of the mystery of Carter’s self-destruction. But the subject eluded easy conclusions and assumptions. Says senior editor Howard Chua-Eoan: “It’s tempting to call this a straightforward story of a man who couldn’t handle fame, but in the end, it was a lot sadder and more complicated than that.” Observes MacLeod, who worked with Carter in Mozambique in July: “Ambition and a search for glamour and excitement were clearly part of Carter’s makeup. But to go into that kind of danger over and over again requires a strong sense of mission or idealism.”

MacLeod also sees Carter’s story as representative of a darker side of middle-class white South Africa and as a warning about the lingering effects of apartheid on all of that country’s people. “The lives of some whites too were disrupted and even destroyed by the social experiment,” he notes. “I wanted to show that side of the apartheid story as well.”

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