A rally welcoming the SWAPO Party of Namibia’s leader Sam Nujoma on his return to Namibia after thirty years in exile. —Windhoek, September 1989
In 1990 I left a box of negatives and transparencies in storage in Johannesburg, and subsequently forget about them. Most of them were rejects, outside of my edits, that I then did not consider important. A few years ago they were returned to me and I discovered that at some point in their many years of neglect, the box had been rained on, and the top layers had been affected by both moisture and mould.
It struck me that the interventions that overlay my original photographs are happenstance, completely random impacts of time and water. The images still carry the power of those scenes I documented all those years ago, yet their corruption and damage seem to magnify that energy. My only action was in choosing to expand the frame into the negative rebate, reconsidering what might be included or left out of the final image.
The material affected by this damage dates from 1985 through to 1989, a period where the hegemony and power of the apartheid state seemed insurmountable in all its brutality. I was part of a young generation of ‘struggle photographer documenting the bravery, idealism and tragedy of the nationwide mobilisation as the townships became ‘ungovernable’.
This was the start of my lifelong photographic journey and I witnessed many intense and traumatic events, but chose not to take the time to ‘process’ them psychologically. Like these negatives, I left them packed away.
I feel that they are now striking physical objects, their distortion speaking to a deeper truth beyond their original documentary format.
A demonstration by students at Wits University while the country was subjected to a nationwide State of Emergency, which outlawed all protest. —Johannesburg, October 1986
Protestors outside the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) House, after a May Day rally in which COSATU demanded the day become a paid holiday and called for a nationwide ‘stay away’ protest by workers. One and a half million workers across the country, along with thousands of school pupils and students observed the call. —Johannesburg, May 1986
Protestors outside COSATU House. The first of May 1986, marked the 100th anniversary of International Labour Day, also known as May Day. —Johannesburg, May 1986
A demonstration by students at Wits University during the declared State of Emergency, outlawing all protest. The march was to protest against the state’s banning of the activities of seventeen leading anti-apartheid organisations—including the United Democratic Front (UDF)—and prohibiting COSATU from engaging in political activity. —Johannesburg, February 1988
Winnie Mandela joins a student protest at Wits University while the country is subjected to a nationwide State of Emergency. —Johannesburg, February 1988
A shack burns during fighting between Zulu and Pondo tribesmen in Umbumbulu squatter camp. During the conflict, more than 4,000 shacks were destroyed and around 120 people were killed. —KwaZulu-Natal, December 1985
Riot police dismantle a burning barricade in Athlone during a week of protests and intense violence following the attempted UDF march on Pollsmoor Prison. The march, demanding the release of Nelson Mandela, was brutally disrupted by the police. —Cape Town, August 1985
Three-year-old Mita Ngubeni, killed by a police rubber bullet, lies in an open casket during her funeral in Atteridgeville Township. —Pretoria, September 1985
Bishop Tutu—recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984—addresses a crowd of mourners and activists in Duduza Township during the political funeral of four young township activists killed during clashes with police. Shortly before the funeral, the Bishop intervened to save the life of a young man who had been accused by the crowd of being a police informer. —East Rand, Gauteng, July 1985
Asphyxiated by tear gas, a woman is helped by other mourners during the funeral. Further clashes broke out with the police after the ceremony. —East Rand, Gauteng, July 1985
Activists during a mass political funeral for youths slain in the so-called ‘grenade incident’ which took place in Duduza Township. Eight activists were killed when an undercover agent gave them booby-trapped hand grenades. —East Rand, Gauteng, July 1985
Activists during a mass political funeral for youths slain by the police in KwaThema Township. The cycle of funerals, followed by violence, leading to further funerals was a familiar occurrence during this period. —East Rand, Gauteng, July 1985
Students protest outside their school in Athlone amid a week of demonstrations and police violence, during which many young activists were killed. The protests in the weeks after the attempted UDF march on Pollsmoor Prison reached such elevated heights, the police closed around 500 schools and colleges. —Cape Town, August 1985
Johnny Clegg performs with his bandmate Sipho Mchunu in one of the final concerts of their band Juluku—a Zulu word for sweat. Clegg, who died aged sixty-six of cancer in 2019, was an anthropologist, singer-songwriter and known as the ‘white Zulu’ or umlungu omnyama (‘black white person’) who used music to defy the apartheid-era segregation laws. He spoke fluent Zulu and was an energetic and skilful exponent of Zulu dance. —Johannesburg, September 1984
Students from the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) celebrate at the end of their annual RAG parade during their first week of university. —Johannesburg, March 1989
The University of Pretoria rugby team (in white) play at Loftus Versveld Stadium. At this time Rugby in South Africa was much more than a sport— There was huge meaning attached to it and the Springbok symbol of the national team was deeply linked to Afrikaner nationalism. Under apartheid there was strict sport segregation with separate leagues for different races. —Pretoria, June 1989
The Western Province rugby team take on Northern Transvaal in a Currie Cup tournament game at Newlands Stadium. —Cape Town, June 1989
Cheerleaders encourage the RAU rugby team during a game at the university’s home stadium. —Johannesburg, July 1989
Members of the RAU rugby team have a moment of prayer and bonding after winning a game at the RAU Stadium. —Johannesburg, July 1989
A rally welcoming the SWAPO Party of Namibia’s leader Sam Nujoma on his return to Namibia after thirty years in exile. He went on to lead SWAPO to victory in the UN- supervised elections that paved the way for independence. —Windhoek, September 1989