Photos from my July - September 2016 visit to Cape Town, South Africa, here from its District 6 Museum.
From Wikipedia: District Six is a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. It was home to almost a tenth of the city of Cape Town’s population, which numbered over 1,700–1,900 families. . After World War II, during the earlier part of the apartheid era, District Six was relatively cosmopolitan. Situated within sight of the docks, it was made up largely of colored residents which included a substantial number of colored Muslims, called Cape Malays. There were also a number of black Xhosa residents and a smaller numbers of Afrikaans, whites, and Indians.
Government officials gave four primary reasons for the removals. In accordance with apartheid philosophy, it stated that interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. They also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; they claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city center, Table Mountain, and the harbor.
On 11 February 1966, the government declared District Six a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act, with removals starting in 1968. By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to the sandy, bleak Cape Flats township complex some 25 kilometers away. The old houses were bulldozed. The only buildings left standing were places of worship. International and local pressure made redevelopment difficult for the government, however. The Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology) was built on a portion of District Six which the government renamed Zonnebloem. Apart from this and some police housing units, the area was left undeveloped.
Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, the South African government has recognised the older claims of former residents to the area, and pledged to support rebuilding.
1976: Students in Soweto, South Africa protest being educated in Afrikaans. The South African police responded to a year of protests by killing hundreds of students, which scandalized the world. These protests were instrumental in pushing the government to reconsider apartheid.
Gideon Mendel (@gideonmendel) remembers his son Eli (@elimendel) picking up a point-and-shoot camera when he was just six years old.
“He took really interesting pictures. Quite cool pictures,” the London-based photographer and activist says of his now 17-year-old son. “Mikhael (@mikhael_subotzky) is a natural photographer as well. He’s done amazing work. I’m not sure what the genetic component of photographic skill is, but my mother’s mother was actually a quite interesting photographer.”
The triple threat of Gideon, Eli and Gideon’s nephew Mikhael Subotzky, is strong evidence for there being such a thing as a “creative gene.” All three storytellers seem to have inherited a strong interest in incorporating social and political activism into their art. Gideon is a photographer who’s documented HIV/AIDS for 18 years and explored climate change for nine in his Drowning World series. Mikhael, who lives in Johannesburg, is a photographer and filmmaker whose work has studied the South African penal system and the history of apartheid. Eli is still a teenager, but he eschews selfies in favor of his own quiet brand of social consciousness, such as photos of a student protest.
“Understanding the world is easier now. All my friends are politically active. Through social media, people are a lot more eager to understand the world,” Eli says. Still, he had a head start. “My dad’s work around apartheid and HIV has a huge influence on my life. I’ve grown up knowing about these huge issues and it’s really affected me.”
Both Eli and Mikhael say Gideon is their toughest critic, but Gideon’s commentary comes from a place not only of love, but also of admiration. When Mikhael was 18, he took advantage of a post-graduation “gap year,” moved to London and picked up odd jobs to save money for travel. Purchasing a camera to document his trip, he snapped photos to test it out and showed Gideon.
“I sort of unleashed this monster on the world. I told him, ‘These aren’t bad. You should think about becoming a photographer,’” Gideon says. (“And that was probably the nicest thing he ever said about my work,” Mikhael says, laughing.)
But, Gideon continues, “In many ways, he has outstripped me as a photographer. He positioned himself in the art world. I’m blown away and so proud of what he’s doing. It’s been interesting — he learned a lot from me and I think he was quite inspired by me, but it’s almost gone the other way. I’ve learned a huge amount about the art world from him.”
And if you think the criticism doesn’t work both ways, rest assured that it does. “Eli’s incredibly scathing about my work,” Gideon says before chuckling.