Thokoza, through the lens of those who live there


Thokoza is a poor and crime-ridden township that represents doom and gloom for many. But it’s also a multidimensional place of pain, joy, hope and love.

Award-winning Goodman Gallery photographer Jabulani Dhlamini is known for his own photo series on Thokoza and helped mentor the Of Soul and Joy students for the project. They were given the task of shooting their own experiences in their home community – pupils from Grade 10 to 12, and others who had been with the project since its 2012 inception. It’s run from the Buhlebuzile Secondary in Thokoza, where workshops are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

In 2012 the project was open only to Buhlebuzile pupils but it has since grown. Now it’s open to interested youth in Joburg. The pictorial stories developed by the students are diverse and they illustrate the complex intersection between education, culture and identity.

They show personal, familial and political narratives of the township. This exhibition, said Dhlamini, offers the pupils an opportunity to show their work in a professional gallery and fulfil a mission to support their photographic careers.

Jabulile Hlanze’s series Somhlolo Ebhuqwini, which means ‘dusty lands’, focuses on Somhlolo Grounds, the oldest and largest soccer ground in the East Rand. Sport still remains a unifier, not only for the people who love and understand it, but for those who use the gathering to socialise. Hlanze says there’s a wealth of activity at the soccer ground. People have fallen in love there, pensioners pass it on their way to the market, groups of drunk construction workers watch a game between the community’s rivals. It’s also a selfie haven for picture lovers. Picture: Jabulile Hlanze

In Urban Farming, the photographer focuses on how animals and plants are still a major source of income for many South Africans. Says photographer Lunathi Mngxuma: ‘I got interested in urban farming because of the evolution of farming, essentially how the commercialisation of farming has changed the practice of farming. Herding cattle in rural Eastern Cape was the motivation behind the photograph. You can leave the rural area but you can’t remove the rural parts of who you are.’ Picture: Lunathi Mngxuma

Vuyo Mabheka’s It takes a village to raise a child series consists of him taking self-portraits in different homes in Thokoza. His headlong, almost challenging gaze in this neat but humble home is a perfect snapshot of Thokoza life. Picture: Vuyo Mabheka

Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s series Ziyanda is about his sister, who was missing for a decade and was found by his mother when she was 25 years old. She was at a hostel in Thokoza. She died shortly after that. This dress is symbolic of the loss and death of a loved one. Picture: Lindokuhle Sobekwa

Celimpilo Mazibuko’s Jus’this is a photographic documentary project that confronts land injustice by considering human settlements in South Africa, particularly in relation to post-1994 urban planning and township development that started with the reconstruction and development programme. His pictures, naturalistic and unfiltered, offer a stark look at how many people live in South Africa. Picture: Celimpilo Mazibuko

  • See the work at the Stop Sign Art Gallery at 141 Bree Street, Nedbank Majestic Building, Newtown, until August 7
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