The 10 best ... of Rise and Fall of Apartheid

2014-03-09 14:00

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Percy Mabandu chooses the most ­evocative of more than 500 images that make up the landmark Rise and Fall of Apartheid ­exhibition at Museum Africa

South Africa, Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, in 1991. In this photo by Graeme Williams, youngsters taunt police during an
ANC political rally at the Sam Ntuli Sports Stadium

1 In 1991, during an ANC political rally at the Sam Ntuli Sports Stadium in Thokoza township on the East Rand, photographer Graeme Williams took this image. It shows a group of boys taunting a squad of policemen deployed to monitor the gathering. The playfulness and the reality of police brutality make this picture tragicomic. It unites the capacity for comedy with apartheid’s real tragedy.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu leading a church service in Katatura township, Windhoek in 1988. Picture: Rashid Lombard

2 Cape Town-based photographer Rashid Lombard took this picture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu leading a church ­service in 1988 in Katutura township, Windhoek. The ­picture conveys the convergence of spirituality and the liberation movement. Part of the image’s force derives from how a black man of the cloth is juxtaposed with the martyred Christ hanging on a cross in the background.

Coffins at a mass funeral

3 Gille de Vlieg’s photo of the gathering of communities and lines of coffins at a mass funeral became one of apartheid South Africa’s most ubiquitous images. Death and its shared rituals were the great equalisers in the oppressed neighbourhoods. It brought together people from different faiths and ­denominations under one ceremony of mourning and resistance as funerals were turned into political rallies.

In Sophiatown the people said "We Won't Move!." Picture: Jurgen Schadeberg

4 As the National Party’s apartheid project entered its eighth year in 1955, Jürgen Schadeberg bares journalistic witness to the demolition of Sophiatown. The multiracial township on the outskirts of Joburg was subjected to forced removals and a resistance to them. In this picture, Schadeberg captures the ­evidence of the resistance as some residents casually play ­morabaraba on the pavement.

Signs of division

5 Ernest Cole’s pictures were dedicated to documenting the signage that made the administration of apartheid tangible. Here, he pictures two men entering a train station under the sign that divides the stairs into two sections, one for Europeans only, another for non-Europeans. It most neatly captures the theme of this exhibition: The bureaucracy of everyday life. Cole’s name was actually Kole in Pedi. He tricked the state’s bureaucratic machinery by changing it to the English variant so he could pass for coloured.

Coloureds swimming pool. Durban 1982. Picture: Cedric Nunn

6 The totality of apartheid’s oppressiveness was embodied most in its ability to permeate even the most mundane ­aspects of people’s lives. This photograph by Cedric Nunn captures how the simple act of visiting a swimming pool was regulated. These children are at a swimming pool designated for ­coloureds in Durban back in 1982.

Miriam Makeba posing for a Drum Cover. Picture: Jurgen Chadeberg

7 The 1950s, apart from the growing intensity of apartheid’s repressive laws, was also marked by the twilight of the Sophiatown renaissance. An era defined by a flowering of black literature, intellectual activism and urban culture. Pictured here by Jürgen Schadeberg in 1955 is Miriam Makeba, who was then a rising star. She would later grow into an international ­cultural icon and a UN goodwill ambassador for her role in the fight against apartheid.

Right wingers risiting
Picture: Graeme Williams

8 In 1990, as South Africa made its last strides out of apartheid towards democracy, Graeme ­Williams photographed right-wingers marching against the ­impending end of white minority rule. Here, he ­pictures an old lady at one such march at Church Square under the Paul Kruger statue in ­Pretoria. Their ­placards show the Christian foundation of their segregationist ideology.

Street Performance, Victoria Street, Durban 1980. Picture: Omar Badsha

9 Street performances took on various meanings during the heavily censored years of repressive white minority rule. Omar Badsha’s images of a street performance taken on Victoria Street, Durban, in 1980 capture the ever-present eye of the law in the lives of the oppressed. The policeman’s presence gives the picture two performances – one by the street dancer, while the other emerges from the tension and curiosity evoked by the policeman’s presence.

Koevoet Picnic on the Cunene River with their families at Ruacana near the border with Angola. November 15, 1987. Picture: John Liebenberg

10 John Liebenberg’s picture of a few members of ­Koevoet (pictured left), the state’s notoriously murderous security apparatus, is richly allusive. They ­enjoy a picnic on the banks of the Cunene River at Ruacana, situated near the border with the then South West Africa (now Namibia) and Angola, on November 15 1987. The picnic’s allusion to their human capacity for familial enjoyment is contrasted by the ­military vehicle. The South West Africa Police Counter-Insurgency Unit – known as Koevoet – was established after the apartheid government’s inheritance of the German colony of South West Africa after World War 2.

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