The rise and fall of apartheid
No medium reflects the recent history of South Africa as poignantly as photography. The Museum Africa in Johannesburg is now showing a collection of stills telling the story of repression and liberation.
The photographer as a witness
The message is clear. Racial segregation may be the law of the land, but it is deeply immoral. In the mid-1950s, members of the civil rights group Black Sash took to the streets to protest against the apartheid regime. A photographer preserved this moment for posterity. Black Sash was founded by white women. In 1990, Nelson Mandela described them as the "conscience of white South Africa."
The camera as a weapon
One of the most famous black photographers is arrested. Peter Magubane started out as a chauffeur and messenger for the legendary DRUM magazine. Jürgen Schadeberg, a German, taught him photography. Magubane sprang to international fame with his pictures of rebellion in the townships. He often had to hide his camera from the authorities - allegedly with the help of a hollowed-out bible.
The end of Sophiatown
In the 1950s, the apartheid regime started dividing up residential areas along racial lines. After the Group Areas Act was passed, the mixed suburb of Sophiatown, a black majority cultural hub, was torn down and residents were forced to move elsewhere. Sophiatown was replaced by "Triomf" - Afrikaans for "Triumph" - a residential area in which only whites were permitted.
Every day the residents of the black townships had to commute to work. The distances were long, the journey arduous. Yet even in the overcrowded trains, there were moments of heightened spirituality. Some of them have been captured by photographer Santu Mofokeng in an impressive collection. The role of faith in society remains one of his key subjects to this day.
The Treason Trial was a trial in 1956 in which 156 South Africans, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested and accused of treason. A year earlier they had published a charter calling for the abolition of apartheid. Unwittingly, the trial promoted solidarity among opposition groups across all racial boundaries.
Icons in the struggle for liberation
One of the most famous pictures in the exhibition is a memorial in its own right. It stands in Soweto and is in memory of an uprising against apartheid by schoolchildren in 1976. 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead during the demonstration. Sam Nzima photographed the tragedy and his picture went round the globe.
Anger mingled with grief
Collective grief is a recurring theme in these pictures. Funerals, such as the burial of the Craddock Four, acquired a political dimension. The four members of an opposition group were kidnapped and killed in 1985. It later transpired that undercover officers of the South African Defense Force (SADF) were behind the deaths.
A new era
A nation full of hope in a celebratory mood. On May 3, 1994, it was revealed that Nelson Mandela was to become the first president of a democratic South Africa. "It was an unbelievable moment," said South African photographer George Hallett, who for the past 20 years had been taking pictures of South Africans in exile. He returned home to cover the first free elections with his camera.
For decades, the homelands, in which the colored population had nominal autonomy, were cut off from education, health care and economic progress. 20 years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is still battling with the consequences of this territorial segregation as this exhibition in Johannesburg shows. Author: Ulrike Sommer / mc Editor: Susan Houlton