John Liebenberg: Masterful photographer of life and war in southern Africa

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John Liebenberg in the ransacked hospital in Cubal, Angola, in 1993. (Photographer unknown/Courtesy the Liebenberg family)
John Liebenberg in the ransacked hospital in Cubal, Angola, in 1993. (Photographer unknown/Courtesy the Liebenberg family)

South African photojournalist John Liebenberg is best known for his remarkable body of work in Namibia, especially the period of the late 1980s when the country headed towards its United Nations-supervised transition to independence.

Born in 1958 in Johannesburg, his childhood was not an easy one, part of it spent in an orphanage. He finished school at a time when white South African men were expected to complete compulsory military service and he was conscripted to Ondangwa in northern Namibia in 1976. It was illegal to take photographs in the army, but Liebenberg hid a small camera in the toilet block.

After national service Liebenberg returned to Namibia and worked in the Windhoek post office. He wanted to be a photographer. He also had a capacity to connect to people.

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