Born in 1990 c.a, my view of the township is that of the awkwardly monikered “post-apartheid” as noted by Hlonipa Mokoena in Mohau Modisakeng’s foreword of his self-titled book, “the Born-Free’s is another moniker that still seems to fit less aptly” he adds. The world, Africa, and subsequently South Africa, continues to mould itself into a new renaissance with this generation continuing to question and form its own narrative on identity, gender, race, culture, tradition, art, religion, spirituality, freedom, decolonisation, free education, land reform, travel, immigration, and other post-apartheid narratives.
Tembisa on its 60th Anniversary, therefore becomes my focal point, were the camera serves as a time machine on a journey of rediscovery, inviting the viewer into both retro and introspective journeys of childhood encounters with the township streets, friends, family, space and landscape as I relive my early childhood and teenage years in Tembisa. While Tembisa is the main focus of this body of work, I have lived in four other townships around Gauteng, namely; Vosloorus which, like Tembisa, sits on the east of Johannesburg, Mabopane, Joe Slovo and Klipgaat which sit north of Pretoria – attending eight different schools throughout my primary and high school education.
The book’s title, arrangement of images, and chapters are informed by this childhood and early teenage nostalgia of growing up in Tembisa and four other townships. All these varied township experiences, links and exchanges with the people, cultures and their routines have informed my ideas about the project, its aesthetic, and its ongoing dialogue between past and present township experiences of identity, automation, work, play, space and landscape as seen from township streets.
The gag here is that, after the passing of my father in 2009, I burnt all my family pictures, essentially destroying the only recorded family history I had, with the exception of that recorded by other family members and friends. So, unlike some of my contemporaries, my “black” family album is not there to reference form. Memories become my reference material. This flipping of the hour glass, is a journey of rediscovery and a practice in archiving thoughts, emotions and memories of township experience by applying documentary-style compositions, lighting, color, and framing to invite the viewer into the township, to archive my and possibly our collective memory of childhood township street experience(s).
This book is, therefore, not a complete representation of the township experience, as many individuals, families, classes and races mix in the cesspool that can be township life, with enduring influences of violence, crime, alcohol, drugs, poverty, and other apartheid remnants that continue their stronghold over many lives behind closed doors.
This along with some of Susan’s Sontag’s texts from her On Photography essays also informed some of my ideas on using a book as exhibition space, on this she writes (pre-social media): “For many decades the book has been the most influential way of arranging (and usually miniaturizing) photographs, thereby guaranteeing them longevity, if not immortality — photographs are fragile objects, easily torn or mislaid — and a wider public. The photograph in a book is, obviously, the image of an image. But since it is, to begin with, a printed, smooth object, a photograph loses much less of its essential quality when reproduced in a book than a painting does. Still, the book is not a wholly satisfactory scheme for putting groups of photographs into general circulation. The sequence in which the photographs are to be looked at is proposed by the order of pages, but nothing holds readers to the recommended order or indicates the amount of time to be spent on each photograph.”
Of the scarce images of Tembisa, Santu Mofokeng’s Winter In Tembisa, 1991, echoes the loudest, as much of the township’s pre-apartheid, apartheid and post-apartheid history and contribution remains undocumented or archived when compared to that of other townships such as Soweto or Sharpville, although Tembisa, founded in 1957 under the same apartheid segregation laws, is South Africa’s second largest township and was one the starting points of the anti-apartheid sentiments of the 1970S to 1990s.
Townships have been, since their genesis, areas created to marginalise and restrict black people’s movements, access to resources, and other economic and socioeconomic activity/participation, but close-enough to provide cheap labour for the industrial cities, mines, and areas that they surround. However, townships such as Tembisa – and every other township, ghetto or loxion are also places of great opportunity, success and promise as townships are forever changing and shifting, carrying with them, in their dusty streets and winds a sense of continued optimism and growth as residents continue redefining township experiences borrowing from their past and creating a future that is unique to them and their surroundings echoing the: They tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were SEEDs #hastag of 2014, which began gaining global traction after a group of students from different countries at the University for Peace did a performance to honour the 43 students who were abducted from a rural teacher-training school in Mexico by local police and delivered to organised crime agents who, according to the authorities, murdered them and burned their bodies.
Purchase book from blurb @ 89,36U$D.