Last January, cousin Dylan spent 3 solitary weeks in a hut in the bush, where he was circumcised and learned about his rights, his duties and his responsibilities as a young man in the community. This initiation is a key moment in the life of most South-African young males. It marks the transition from boy to man. On the last day, while the young man walks back to the village, the elders set the hut on fire in a symbolic gesture to leave childhood behind. Painted with red earth and donning his first costume, everybody will recognise him as a young man who just graduated from initiation school.,
Early in the morning last Tuesday, I drove through the drizzle from Bloemfontein to Phahameng Location near Bultfontein where young film maker Ras Levi Radibolelo had organised eight homes for us to visit and ‘cut’ our family portraits. Without Radibolelo’s spot-on research, his natural flair for connecting with people and his genuine interest in their stories, without his local knowledge and his impeccable timing, we could never have pulled this one off. Give thanks for the uplifting and Irie collaboration, Bra Levi. More strength!
Mapaseka is a single mom with two sons, Blessing and Lethabo. We first met about ten years ago. She had just left a job at the university in Potchefstroom to start working in Bloemfontein. After working hours at POPCRU (Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union), she studied at UOFS where she became an outspoken LGBTQI activist and obtained a degree in Labour Law. Today, she works a day-time job at the offices of SASSA (the South Africa Social Security Agency) but she also runs a salon specialising in hair and nails. As if that wasn’t enough work already, she also designs and manufactures traditional style clothing, accessories and handbags, branded AZANIA.
Steve and Hassan met 11 years ago on a dating site, and they have been together ever since. In another life, Mr. Jacobs was married twice and worked as a garden and landscape designer. Steve is very creative and inventive but he is losing his eyesight. He’s always horsing around, can‘t sit still, chronic bowel pains keep him up, on his feet, hunched shoulders. He has a background in mechanical engineering and extensive knowledge of traditional medicine. Hassan is eager to learn, and Steve teaches his young partner everything, from growing plants and preparing medicinal herbs to building a generator from scrap. They live off-grid in a tuck shop on the road to Lesotho, where they sell basic groceries to the farm workers who live in the area. They also repair cars and recycle metals from their scrap yard.
Today marks the end of 7 days of prayer and festivities for the Rastafari community of Afrika Borwa, who celebrated their Ethiopian Christmas. In the words of Marcus Garvey, Ras Bobo HorseMouth says: “Intelligence rules the world. Ignorance carries a burden”.
Mrs. Dibe (80) is her energetic self when I arrive at her home in Batho Location, just before noon. Adelina and her daughters Bella and Salomé collect plastic litter in the location, every day, and stock it in their yard in huge bags provided by the recycling company. Collecting and sorting is hard work for little money under an unforgiving sun, and the competition is fierce.
But today, Adelina Seboilwe Dibe isn’t wearing her work clothes: she has changed into a beautiful white dress with a flower print for our little portrait session. She has an old framed portrait of her parents, and we get started.
Then, she surprises me with a similar portrait of her late husband, Cecil Shuping Dibe. It is amazing to see the old man (as Adeline lovingly refers to him) as a man in his prime, for the first time. Printer by trade and human rights activist under the Apartheid regime by conviction, Mr. Dibe was one of the stalwarts of the Struggle. We all first met in 2009 during a function, celebrating his 80th birthday with the comrades of the ANC. Mr. Dibe and I made our last portrait together in 2014, and in 2016, the Bishop passed.
On December 5 2018, Khotso Pudumo of the National Museum in Bloemfontein introduced me to Mrs. Jessie Moreki (90). Bessie became my first sitter as I finally picked a project up again I had started working on in Batho Location four years earlier.
She posed with a portrait of her parents, dated 1932. Back then, Bessie was 3 years old. This morning, when I visited her with a print, she pointed me to another picture on the wall, a digital enlargement of a photo taken on her brother’s wedding day in the mid 50s. Brother Joel Mateza, first from the left, sits next to his bride. Bessie is the lady with the radiant smile, standing in the middle. She brightened my day with that same beautiful smile this morning, nearly 60 years later.
Mrs. Moreki still lives in the home her father built in Bochabela, where she grew up.