Apartheid: then and now
April 13, 2008 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Then and Now presents works from 8 South African documentary photographers - each contributes 10 photos taken during apartheid and 10 made since the democratic elections of 1994. (On display at Duke University through July 27.) posted by madamjujujive (12 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:28 PM on April 13, 2008

I was expecting a brilliant contrast...I guess life isn't that cut-and-dried, and the fruits of freedom are sometimes subtler than the struggle for it might suggest. Thanks very much for this post.
posted by owhydididoit at 6:49 PM on April 13, 2008

This photo really moved me. I did a quick google search of the doctor in the photo, Dr. Ivan Toms, and found out Dr. Toms has recently passed away according to this, but seemed to have lived a very meaningful life.
posted by Mijo Bijo at 7:22 PM on April 13, 2008

owhydididoit, I expected more contrast too, but then I read this comment from David Goldblatt: "... During the apartheid years my primary concern was with values: what our values were, how we had arrived at them, and particularly how we expressed them. And once you start with that line of thinking, there is no break, there is a continuation. I am still concerned with what our values are, and how we are expressing them. And I am as disgusted with some of the values we have now as I was with some of the values we had under apartheid."

Mijo Bijo, I noticed that photo in particular too.

I wanted to point out one other photo essay from one of the Guy Tillim links that I found remarkable: Mai Mai militia and child soldiers

I started digging on a few of the photographers and was so impressed by some of the works I found, so although I really liked the original exhibit, the real bonus was in finding pointers to these great photographers. Plus it is good prep for me, I am visiting South Africa in a month.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:43 PM on April 13, 2008

That comment really puts things into perspective.

I hope you make the most of your trip! Safe travels.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:15 PM on April 13, 2008

Mijo, Toms was later recognized with the highest civilian award by the post-apartheid government, the Order of the Baobab. And even the judge told him at his sentencing for avoiding conscription, "You are not a criminal. Our jails are there for people who are a menace to society - you are not a menace to society. In fact you are just the opposite, you have always been an asset to society in the services you have rendered."
posted by dhartung at 9:29 PM on April 13, 2008

Thanks mjjj. These pictures are very moving.

Another great post as usual.
posted by hadjiboy at 1:24 AM on April 14, 2008

Awesome post. madamjjj - mefimail me if you need any help with your visit to SA - I've been living here since last year.

Re: perspective - one of the photos that stood out to me was Graeme Williams' of the Xhosa youth (I still can't pronounce the word Xhosa, or most of the clicking sounds of that beautiful language, correctly), here. It stood out because it could have been taken in 1994 or yesterday. Actually, a lot of the pictures felt that way.

Racism here is an interesting thing, at least for a person coming from the US, with its particular and unique recent history on the issue. Its almost like ZA had their revolution in fast-forward, and some things got swept under the carpet along the way. That, and the added consideration that 80% of the population is black.

"Black." There's not at all the PC-connotations around terms like "black" and "white" here - you're either black, white, or colored (a mix of the two or something else entirely), and that's that. You can talk about it in casual company - I've sat at an outdoor restaurant in the heart of Soweto engaged in a loud conversation about just such issues, and that's a completely normal thing here. People aren't embarrassed to address things, they aren't nervous about offending someone's sensibilities, and I think in a sense that gives them a leg up on other places in the world that are still trying to sort out how they deal with these things. And that's not to say that SA isn't still dealing with them.

As for the white people here, I've noticed that there are generally 2 types, if I may be so stereotypical for a minute. There are what I'll call the more casual whites - they may speak Afrikaans, but they very well might not, and they're comfortable hanging out in the same atmospheres and locales with their black countrymen. They see them as equals, they treat them accordingly, they generally come across as decent citizens who are earnestly trying to move past a dark history and live in harmony, creating a better country for all. In my general estimation this is the majority of the white population here, which is one of the reasons I think the country has prospered of late (relatively speaking).

And then there are what I'll kindly refer to as the other type. They generally seem to be your more old-school Afrikaaner. To compare these types to some of my countrymen who see fit to drive trucks with Confederate flags would not be a complete misnomer. I prefer to tread lightly here (I am making generalizations, after all), but there is certainly a contingent of the population that seems as though it feels it has been cheated out of some preferred status it enjoyed carrying at one point. I seem to think this contingent is fading as the years continue to pass, however, thankfully.

There's something about the second class of whites, however, that stands out to me - they don't treat just blacks with their harsh approach. They treat everyone that way - they treat me that way. They drive rudely. They have no basic sense of manners for anyone, not just the blacks. Just yesterday I was at the mall standing at the counter of the corndog stand, when one of these rather typical mother-son shopping contingents walks up and stands right next to me, not the least bit behind me, at the counter. She asks her son what he wants and then starts barking orders at the young Xhosa girl behind the counter, who was still working on the order before mine - hadn't even taken my order yet. This wasn't nearly the first time this has happened to me - the general sense of entitlement leads to no real respect for lines, waiting for your turn, etc., so in my typical response to this kind of childish behavior, I turned to her and told her loudly enough for everyone around to hear that "the queue starts behind ME."

Its funny to watch their expressions - because nobody ever really affronts to this kind of behavior, and when they do, its prone to spiral into screaming matches, much like the one my realtor had with a landlord here on my first night looking for apartments here. And I usually make it pretty clear that I'm approaching the situation not from their point of view so much as one of general fairness and courtesy. Which they don't seem to be able to handle (the mother actually looked me up and down for a minute, realized I wasn't going anywhere, then took her son and shopping bags and left, I tipped the girl extra for the lost business).

But here's the thing - some black people here are starting to develop this mentality as well. Its certainly the exception, for now - the culture of deference to the white man is still very much prevalent, and that's still how the wealth is skewed, but as you see more and more of the blacks driving MB's, you every now and again run into someone who feels that its their place to treat you like shit. And not necessarily because of your skin color, either.

I'm convinced that its within all of us - black or white - to make the decision to see everyone else as our equals and to act as courteous adults in a functioning society, respecting people regardless of their color, or any other delineation for that matter. I'm also convinced that it's within all of us to make the completely opposite decision. The existence of any human heart necessarily capacitates the ability to hate and to love - perhaps, sadly, equally. I see people do both here every day, and I'm fearfully aware of my own ability to make said decision either way.

This country has so much potential, and yet it seems that hate (and greed - a subject for a whole other diatribe, I suppose) are enough to usurp all of it.

The kids with the white face paint - I see them every day, down by the mall, when I go there for lunch. They do a sort of lazy michael-jackson-esque break-dance to the music in their heads. They're wearing tattered clothes and no shoes they have a can in their hands for change. People rarely give them any. Most of them spend it on sniffing glue, which you often see them doing on the side of the road when they've tired of dancing. But they look just like the kids in that picture. There's probably more to the story of the paint itself - a history behind it that I've managed to not become familiar with yet - but still, every time I see those black kids painted white, to me its a poignant irony of the problems here.

The picture could have been taken yesterday.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:55 AM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

BTW, should you get the chance to see the Apartheid museum, don't miss it - one of the best museums I've ever been to, albeit quite an emotional experience. My photos, from my first time there, here. This was a moving one for me - looking at the earnestness of their faces.

I've heard it said that the entire world knows at least one Afrikaans word: Apartheid.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:09 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Allkindsoftime, I'd suggest that there are plenty of English South Africans in your 'second group' of whites.

Anyway, my dad went to the launch party of this book at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, SA (where he lives), and he got me a copy autographed by all of the photographers who were in attendance. It's very good, and I'm glad it's getting a wider viewing.
posted by Flashman at 7:44 AM on April 14, 2008

I'd suggest that there are plenty of English South Africans in your 'second group' of whites.

Granted. Also Germans, Dutch, and even some French I know. Other's too I'm sure. And many of them fall into the first group too.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:56 AM on April 14, 2008

Great set of images! It's amazing how far South Africa (and many parts of Africa have come since de-colonization) Of course, there's still much work to be done.
posted by AliaCamu at 2:07 PM on April 14, 2008

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