Dr Magubane embarked on his long and distinguished career in 1955, when he joined Drum magazine.This took Magubane and his camera to the heart of the anti-apartheid defiance campaigns and treason trials. After the Drum years, he travelled and exhibited in Europe, and spent time studying in the United States and on his return in 1966 joined the Rand Daily Mail.In 1969, he was detained for 586 day in solitary confinement, and after this, he was banned as a photographer for five years.He returned to his work in time to bear witness to the uprising of young school children that began on June 16, 1976.
He resumed work for the Rand Daily Mail. Coverage of the Soweto riots of 1976 earned him worldwide acclaim (e.g. 'The coffins of thirty of the Sharpeville dead were buried side by side', see Magubane's South Africa, p. 26) and led to a number of international photographic and journalistic awards, one of which was the American National Professional Photographers Association Humanistic Award in 1986, in recognition of one of several incidents in which he put his camera aside and intervened to prevent people being killed. He also took photographs for several United Nations agencies, including the High Commission for Refugees and UNICEF, being particularly committed to exposing the plight of children and documenting traditional societies. His photographs have appeared in Life magazine, the New York Times, National Geographic and Time.