Earlier this year (2016) I met up with a good friend of mine, Peter, for a cup of coffee and to catch up on each other’s lives. We live within a kilometre of one another but due to the overly complicated nature of our 21st century lives we seldom get opportunities where we can appreciate a face-to-face chat. Anyway, at this fortunate intersection of our schedules we got to talking about photography outings and how few of them we get to enjoy and that we really ought to try and change this. Without going into too much detail, Peter picked up on the idea and ran with it, organising a day out for 12 photographers with the Durban Green Corridor, a local non-profit organisation that is doing some great work for local tourism by showing people parts of Durban that they had no idea even existed.
After Peter had done all the organising it fell to me to find 10 other local photographers who would join us on the big day out. It wasn’t very difficult to do via social media and the available spots for this free outing filled in just one morning. We had a mix of enthusiasts, professionals and also some photography lecturers at local colleges join us.
The month of April is particularly important in the history of South Africa as the 27th day this year marks the 22nd anniversary of our democracy. The first place we were going to visit on this outing was also important as it was where Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi established Phoenix Settlement in South Africa over 110 years ago (1904 to be precise), and where his philosophy of satyagraha (passive resistance) was born.
Phoenix settlement lies on the periphery of Inanda township, a name which means “Pleasant Place” in Zulu. It is where the first president of the African National Congress, John Dube was born and it is also where Nelson Mandela cast his vote in the historic first democratic elections of 1994. Inanda was a very troubled place during the struggle against apartheid and was the scene of many violent clashes between political factions. If you dig a little deeper into the history of this place you’ll uncover lots of other fascinating people, events and locations in Inanda that have played an important role in the history of this country and the development of its people.
Our first stop was at Mahatma Gandhi’s house, which after having been burned and looted during violent political rioting there in 1985, has now been rebuilt and turned into a museum. We were doing a guided 2km walk through the surrounding Bhambayi Settlement which is a shanty town that sprung up around Phoenix Settlement during Inanda’s rapid growth in the 1900’s. My initial reaction to finding myself on foot in this place, carrying with me the somewhat expensive tools of my trade, was complete and total apprehension. A thick stench of human and other organic waste hung in the air as we set off on our walk. It took a few minutes for me to remember that photography was why we were here and that I should at least be documenting the outing, if not looking for photo opportunities amongst the local inhabitants. I told myself that if I did become a victim of crime while on this expedition, I might view it as an opportunity to change careers completely (to what, who knows?). I don’t know if the rest of the group was feeling the same apprehension, but if they were they weren’t showing it at all. Our guides were having a hard time keeping us all in one group. It was like herding cats.
As we walked further away from Gandhi’s house I began to ease into the situation and after a while I began to feel quite safe. The locals we encountered were fascinated with this group of “Mlungus” (whites) who had started photographing everything in sight. Children as young as toddlers were playing carefree in the dusty roads, while adults did whatever it was that they had to do on a Saturday morning. Here are a selection of photos I took. Please click to view larger versions.
We came across a group of Kaiser Chiefs supporters (they are a huge South African football club) who were all dressed up in the team colours and they were enthusiastically posing for photos. Here’s Peter making a portrait of a happy groupie.
A small group of boys were practising tumbling by using a couple of concrete blocks as a spring board. When they saw all the cameras they kicked into high gear. If we Mlungus saw our children doing this on a Saturday morning we’d probably have a fit because there was no adult supervision or safety equipment around. Yet we grew up like this ourselves, out on the street, carefree and mostly barefoot. What has gone wrong?
But just like our current generation of urban youngsters, the world wide web is sucking in township kids too.
The local “spaza” shop plays a big part in township life. This is where people can get everyday items as well as have an early morning beer and a chinwag with mates.
The owner of the shop.
This is Katya who is originally from the Ukraine, posing with some of the local children outside a shebeen (unlicensed watering hole).
And Roxanne was having to fend off some advances from the already inebriated shebeen patrons who emerged from the shack to see what all the commotion was about.
Part of the gang.
This fellow was doing running repairs to his tuck shop (sweet shop) which was literally an assembly of planks and other bits of cladding. He was trying not to appear aware of us, but I caught him smiling under his cap as he worked.
Township residents are usually very resourceful, sometimes dangerously so. These guys were busy re-grooving old tyre casings by hand, which they then sell on the side of the main road through Bhambayi. If you looked at them without knowing what they were, you’re be convinced that these tyres were new.
Our second attraction on this outing was a visit to the top of Inanda Mountain. I had been to this exact spot just a week earlier when I agreed to help a fellow church member video a performance by an Acapella band he is managing, so it was almost deja vu for me. The view from up the top of the mountain is quite spectacular as you can see. Unfortunately the time of day wasn’t great for photography but we made the most of it anyway. The dam in the background is Inanda dam, which is considerably lower than normal, but not quite as critically low as other dams that feed this part of the world. We have actually just begun to experience water restrictions in the Durban area this past week, for the first time since the early 80’s.
Here’s a panorama of the view followed by a photo of our group.
We then headed down into the Inanda Valley to the Mzinyathi Falls, which is a lush gorge with a spectacular waterfall, before our final photo opportunity for the day, a place called Rasta Caves (literally below where this shot of the falls was taken from).
The climb down to the Rasta Caves was actually quite taxing as we had to clamber over rocks and other hard things with our camera bags. Eventually we got to this natural clearing in the cliff face where we were met by genuine Rastafarians. This is a holy place for them, so we were asked to remove our shoes before they let us into their sanctuary to take some photos. The Rastas have an interesting mix of beliefs, including Christian and other spiritual influences.
The Rasta Elder consults with our tour guide before consenting to our visit.
I believe this fellow is the leader of these Rastas. We found him sitting in one of the stone enclosures that have been constructed in the cove (I wouldn’t call it a cave).
After we had been there for a while they began to sing us a hymn. No, it wasn’t reggae.
Lying on the ground in front of what I assume is an altar I saw this book. I believe this is the Holy Piby, which is also known as the “Black Man’s Bible”.
After the visit to the Rasta Caves we headed back to one of the Green Corridor bases at the edge of the dam to enjoy a late Zulu lunch, comprising meat, puthu (maize meal) with chakalaka sauce and some cold juice. After that our time in the township of Inanda came to an end and we got back into our minibus to go home.
In conversation with the other photographers on the way home it became obvious that this visit had a profound impact on us all. As white people we like to remain blissfully ignorant of the reality of the poverty that affects many of our fellow citizens of different race groups. We close ourselves off in our suburban homes, many of us behind high walls with electrified strands on top of them, shaking our heads at the political headlines of the day, threatening to pull out of the country to go and find greener grass overseas, all while safe in the knowledge that our capabilities as a group of people will carry us along. We are absolutely convinced that we are not responsible for the plight of the poor. The truth is that if we were as capable as we think we are, we wouldn’t allow the kind of poverty that we saw in Bhambayi Settlement continue to unbalance the chassis of our society. We would be looking for a solution and working together towards it the way capable people are supposed to.
I think that the biggest challenge white South Africans face is awakening to the realisation that the responsibility of eradicating poverty falls on all of our shoulders, not just the government’s. We have to think about what we can personally do to make things better for those less fortunate than us. How can we reach out and invest physically in the future of all our people? How can we set aside once and for all the petty differences that always threaten to destabilise our society? How can we forget that we are all still a Rainbow Nation and that a few bad apples sitting at the top of the food chain do not have to ruin the entire harvest for us? We must never allow those rotten apples to sully our minds back into the mindset of hatred that created the social imbalance in the first place.
At his inauguration address on 10 May 1994, President Nelson Mandela said these deeply profound words:
“Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity`s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.”
We owe it to ourselves to realise our own potential. As a photographer I urge every visitor to South Africa, as well as those of us who have always lived on the side of privilege, to do one of these authentic township tours. If you’re in the Durban area go and check out the tours arranged by The Green Corridor. You will be so glad you did.