Momtolo, Site C
30 years ago, Momtolo left her rural village—and her 2 young daughters—to come to Cape Town in search of work. Like many women her age, she is a domestic worker commuting into a white neighborhood in the citty twice a week. When she is in Cape Town she is called Sylvia.
The Group Areas Act, passed in the 1950s, prohibited blacks from living in the cities. Hundreds of thousands defied the ban and moved to urban areas in search of work, putting up shacks made of tin, wood and cardboard. Apartheid is gone, but its legacy-- and the shacks-- remain. In fact, the townships are growing: Khayelitsha is home to between 500,000 and 1 million people. There is no official census count.
Momtolo in her kitchen, B366A, Site C
Momtolo is the defacto mayor of Site C. She lives on a busy corner and people are constantly wandering into her house to say hello or share a drink.
"If you have something and your neighbor has nothing, you give him a little bit. That's how we do it here. Your neighbor can't be hungry."
Cynthia and Malili, B474A Site C
The ANC government promised to build houses for residents of the townships when it came into power 10 years ago. After a decade of waiting, both Cynthia and Malili have finally been given orders to break down their houses. They will relocate to a brick house in a nearby neighborhood.
"No more smells. No more mice. No fleas. And a toilet inside. Even if it rains I won't be scared to go to the toilet now."
The Concertina Player and His Son, with Neighbor.
At the age of 10, Zandisile (in the back) was told that he would become a Sangoma — a traditional healer. The ancestors direct him through dreams, which he translates into cures for physical and mental ailments. 80% of South Africans use traditional medicine.
The Concertina Player's Wife
Two years into her training as a Sangoma, Noyekanje hopes to make a living working with her husband as a traditional healer.
Elizabeth Mtamzeli, St. John's Apostolic Church, B438B, Site C
I was photographing at the house across the street when Elizabeth came to get me. Her house was blue and white, like her church uniform and I was going to ask her to pose in front of her house. She insisted I follow her through the side door of her shack... and into this modest church.
Lindiwe at her Spaza Shop
Unemployment in Khayelitsha is 50%. Most people make a living in the informal economy selling sweets, cold drinks, sheep, tripe, or used clothes that they get from knocking on doors in the city.
Party Dress on Clothesline
Almost one half of the population in the townships is under the age of 18.
Luvo and Amele in their Bedroom
Momtolo's grandchildren live in a nearby shack with their mother.
Xoliswa and Twins
Xoliswa lives with her mother and father and two brothers. No one in the house is working. She supplements her breast milk with bottles of flour water. The twins were born 6 weeks premature
Nomvelele and her Sister at Home, Site C
Nomvelele (on the right) is determined to send her children to college. Her house is filled with books that she has collected from the apartments that she cleans in the city.
Thomas Nkos-Ayithethi, Retired Truck Driver, Age 84, B432A, Site C
"I would rather you photographed me in my suit. I will put it on for you next time you come."
Nosynod at her Daughter's House, B386B, Site C
Nosynod left her rural village to get medical treatment in the Cape Town. The ANC government built new clinics in the townships after they came into power in 1994.
Lindie in her Room, B366B, Site C
Lindie is putting herself through school by waiting tables in the city.
"I will run my own company one day. And I will definitely have a place of my own. "
Nosandi with Laundry, B146A, Site C
There is not a single shack that doesn't have laundry hanging to dry on a sunny day. Electricity is expensive and is purchased with refillable cards. Parafin stoves keep the shacks warm on cold days.
Bongiwe in a Shebeen, B477A, Site C
Under apartheid laws blacks were forbidden to sell liquor. Informal taverns sprang up and shebeens are still a common sight throughout the townships.
New Shack in Nkonini
An estimated 135 people come to the city every day in search of work. They set up new shacks on whatever land is available. Residents in this new area call it Nkonini, which means "by force".
B446B, Site C
Informal settlements can spring up overnight. It is only after the shacks are given street numbers that the settlement is deemed legal. And with a street number comes electricity, an outdoor water tap, and toilet.
Zandile and Aluta in their bedroom at 5 am. B366A, Site C
Momtolo's youngest daughter commutes 4 hours a day to her job as a hotel maid.
Pindiwe's Daycare, Site C
Working mothers leave their children at one of the informal day care centers. A month's fee for each child is $30.
Momtolo Daughter and Grandson in her Shack. B366A, Site C
Momtolo hopes her name will come up on the list for government housing this year.
"These changes have come with me getting so old. It is too late for me. The time is for the children now."
Momtolo's Family Home, Timane Location, Eastern Cape
Without electricity and running water Timane would seem like a remote village. But it is alongside one of the major highways in South Africa.
Victoria Preparing for Momtolo's Party, Timane Location, Eastern Cape
Momtolo threw a huge party for her son when he returned from the bush. Her sisters helped paint her house and put in a new floor of cow dung. A cow and 6 sheep were slaughtered. The party cost about a year's salary for Momtolo.
Luvo Coming Home from Spending the Night with the Initiates in the Bush. Timane Location, Eastern Cape
Young boys bring the initiates food cooked by the mothers every night while they are in the bush for their circumcision ceremony.
Initiates Returning from the Bush. Timane Location, Eastern Cape
After 5 weeks living in the bush with a teacher, the initiates return to the village.
New Initiates, Timane Location, Eastern Cape
Between the ages of 16 to 21 most young men participate in a traditional circumcision ceremony. They spend 5 weeks in a hut healing and learning how to be a man. When they return they must burn all of their old clothes and wear a suit and hat for 6 months.
Wanda at Timane Location, Eastern Cape
One of Momtolo's grandsons who joined her at her family home for Christmas.
Two Neighbors the Morning of the Party. Timane Location, Eastern Cape
Employment prospects are grim in the Eastern Cape. Farming is difficult due to long draughts. The young people who live in Timane need to be very imaginitve to make a living.
"I am going to start selling airtime for cell phones for people who can't get to town. It will be my first business venture. Do you think it will work?"
Timane Location at Night
Most families, whether they live in the townships near the cities or in rural villages, maintain a kraal to keep animals but also to honor the ancestors who are buried there. Momtolo plans on returning to her village when she retires.
"I will be with my elders there. They will tell me what to do next."
From 2004 through 2006 I photographed in Khayelitsha, one of the many townships outside of Cape Town. I worked with Momtolo who has lived in her shack in “Site C” for the last 20 years. She was—and continues to be—my guide, my eyes, and my friend. Despite her worsening cataracts, Momtolo would suggest images for us to make, pointing out good light, while walking up and down the same street with me again and again looking for the street vendors, mechanics, tavern owners, and children that we photographed the previous week. Toward the end of my time in Cape Town we put together this exhibition of photographs of her family and her neighborhood. We hung it on the laundry line of her shack, which happens to be on a busy intersection. People crowded in to see what was going on—confused, excited, bewildered, and honored. It was the most rewarding thing I have done.
Momtolo, like all of her neighbors, lives on the edge, marginalized by apartheid and its legacy of poverty and unemployment. I began selling this work as a way to raise money for her family. But with the growing success of this online exhibition, my ambitions grew as well. The sale of these images helped to start up Iliso Labantu, an organization I started with my colleague, Alistair Berg. We hold workshops, gather donated equipment and organize trips for the photographers to various neighborhoods throughout the townships in order to continue documenting life on the edges. Many of the photographers we have trained now make a living selling their work in tourist markets and by photographing in their neighborhoods for people who don’t own a camera.