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He was born in 1917 in Margate, Natal, South Africa, and attended the Fascadale Mission School. Showing early promise as a writer, he submitted various samples of his work to publications and as a result was offered a job by the Post newspaper in Johannesburg, which had published some of his earlier contributions.
He became frustrated upon his return to South Africa. There were few opportunities for black journalists due to the restrictions of apartheid. Most black-focused publications were controlled by white business interests and none of them offered scope for the kind of investigative exposés that Nxumalo had in mind.
In 1951, the publisher Jim Bailey established the legendary Drum magazine with Anthony Sampson as editor, and asked Henry Nxumalo to become the assistant editor. Nxumalo by this time specialised in investigative journalism.
He obtained employment on the potato farms so as to expose the squalid conditions (almost slave-like) experienced by Black labourers. Worried about the lawlessness in Johannesburg "the square mile of sin", he agitated for clean-up and appealed for support from the police.
On another assignment he managed to get himself arrested and was sent to Johannesburg central prison. His resulting article, describing the ward conditions and the degrading naked search, was an international scoop. He later got work on a farm where an African labourer was beaten to death with a section of hose-pipe. His investigation into whether the church "supported" apartheid showed the difference between prejudice and the gospel of "brotherly love".
In 1957, Nxumalo was investigating an abortion racket when he was murdered by unknown assailants.
- Mike Nicol, Good-looking Corpse: World of Drum - Jazz and Gangsters, Hope and Defiance in the Townships of South Africa, Secker & Warburg, 1991, ISBN 0-436-30986-6
- "The Birth of a Tsotsi: Henry Nxumalo", in Anthony Adams & Ken Durham (eds), Writing from South Africa, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43572-2.
- Struan Douglas. "Drum magazine". Worldonline. Archived from the original on 20 March 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
- Ndaba Dlamini (19 October 2004). "The word on the street is change". Johannesburg News Agency. Archived from the original on 23 September 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
- Michael Billington, review of "Who Killed Mr Drum? | Riverside Studios, London" (review), The Guardian, 3 September 2005.
- "Profile of Henry "Mr Drum" Nxumalo". S A National Orders. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
- Profile of Henry "Mr Drum" Nxumalo for National Orders
- Mohamed Keita, "Remembering Henry Nxumalo, pioneer under apartheid", Committee to Protect Journalists, 3 January 2012.