South Africa’s First Post-Apartheid Generation Comes of Age with @krisannejohnson

To see more of Krisanne’s documentary photography from South Africa and Swaziland, follow @krisannejohnson on Instagram.

Photographer Krisanne Johnson (@krisannejohnson) gravitates toward stories about youth culture. Her most recent black-and-white images from the streets of South Africa continue her eight-year-long commitment to documenting the country’s first generation to be born free of racial segregation.

“I think young adults express an energy and rawness that can truly reflect the climate of a country,” she says. “I wanted to document the first post-apartheid generation to come of age and their experience of growing up in a democracy that is complex and young.”

The New York-based former White House staff photographer’s connection to South Africa dates back to 1998 when she spent a transformative year there studying photojournalism at Rhodes University and interning at the Cape Times. “It was almost less about photography and more about the late night discussions, the stories, the observations — to see a changing post-apartheid generation take shape,” says Krisanne.

Over the subsequent years, Krisanne visited South Africa to see friends, but it wasn’t until after graduate school that she felt the pull and the commitment to return and begin her long-term work. In 2006, she started a project in neighboring Swaziland on young women coming of age amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Then in 2007, Krisanne began to focus in earnest on South Africa’s post-apartheid youth, as they strived to escape the country’s ignominious past. She has returned almost every year for extensive periods of time to continue her work on each project.

“It’s important for me to really take my time and understand the dynamics of the different neighborhoods and people,” she says.

Krisanne has pieced together different chapters of the post-apartheid story, from broader subcultures to intimate, personal, daily life portraits of her subjects. She has photographed Kwaito culture, a musical genre that emerged from the townships at the end of apartheid, along with the rising middle class of Soweto fashionistas, known as the Smarteez, taking over the streets with their inventive style of dress.

“On my most recent trip, I’ve been looking at issues surrounding housing rights, unemployment, income inequality and social segregation in Cape Town,” she says. “I spent three months there and I’ve only started to crack the surface.”

Maya Angelou’s poem for Madiba

His day is done.
Is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome, reached us in the United States, and suddenly our world became somber.
Our skies were leadened.

His day is done.
We see you, South African people standing speechless at the slamming of that final door through which no traveler returns.
Our spirits reach out to you Bantu, Zulu, Xhosa, Boer.
We think of you and your son of Africa, your father, your one more wonder of the world.

We send our souls to you as you reflect upon your David armed with a mere stone, facing down the mighty Goliath.
Your man of strength, Gideon, emerging triumphant.
Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned in the bloody maws of South African dungeons.
Would the man survive? Could the man survive?
His answer strengthened men and women around the world.
In the Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in Chicago’s Loop, in New Orleans Mardi Gras, in New York City’s Times Square, we watched as the hope of Africa sprang through the prison’s doors.
His stupendous heart intact, his gargantuan will hale and hearty.

He had not been crippled by brutes, nor was his passion for the rights of human beings diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment.
Even here in America, we felt the cool, refreshing breeze of freedom.
When Nelson Mandela took the seat of Presidency in his country where formerly he was not even allowed to vote we were enlarged by tears of pride, as we saw Nelson Mandela’s former prison guards invited, courteously, by him to watch from the front rows his inauguration.
We saw him accept the world’s award in Norway with the grace and gratitude of the Solon in Ancient Roman Courts, and the confidence of African Chiefs from ancient royal stools.

No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.

Yes, Mandela’s day is done, yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation, and we will respond generously to the cries of Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, the poor who live piteously on the floor of our planet.
He has offered us understanding.
We will not withhold forgiveness even from those who do not ask.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done, we confess it in tearful voices, yet we lift our own to say thank you.

Thank you our Gideon, thank you our David, our great courageous man.

We will not forget you, we will not dishonour you,
we will remember and be glad that you lived among us,
that you taught us,
and that you loved us all.

Below commentary via a Palestinian friend:

Unbearable and dehumanizing. Headline from today’s Washington Post: “2 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza clash” is BOLD and on the TOP and in LARGE font. The subheading, “Death toll tops 330 as Hamas militants step up attacks” is in regular font and on the bottom.

The 330 Palestinian lives (the overwhelming majority of which are innocent civilians) are not as worthy or important to the American press as 2 Israeli lives. In fact, they do not even deserve to be named (Palestinians). Whereas the Israelis are named and described as having been “killed,” the Palestinians are just “dead”— either they mysteriously stopped breathing, or they are responsible for their own killing, or Hamas is to blame (as is insinuated). And no mention of Israel’s massacres and war crimes.

I am sick and tired of being told that my life is worthless. Sick and tired of being told that Hamas are terrorists whereas the Israeli occupying soldiers are not. Sick and tired of being told that as a Palestinian male, just because of my gender, I am marked as a legitimate target of colonial violence, and that few tears will be shed on my behalf.

The corporate mainstream US media, heavily influenced by the Zionist lobby, will not quote
Chris Hedges: “The incursion and bombardment of Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use lethal weapons of the modern battle field on a largely defenseless civilian population is the final phase in the decades long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.”

It will not quote Noam Chomsky: “When Israel, in the occupied territories now, claim that they have to defend themselves, they are defending themselves in the sense that any military occupier has to defend itself against the population that they’re crushing.”

For 66 years, Palestinians have been saying the same thing. Even our voices are inferior, dispensable, and contemptible to the American Zionist elite and establishment. Imperialism is alive and well. Our voices are growing hoarse. We cannot do this alone— we need solidarity. We need Jewish people of conscience and US tax payers to have the courage to say “Not in my name.”

While on missions trip to Uitenhage, Port Elizebeth we ran a holiday club for the one local charities supported children of +- 200 in a local township. (informal settlement) Sadly this picture was one that impacted me most about the trip which when asked what happened a young boy told me that the elder of the two in the picture’s brother was killed by a white policeman and he was pulling his young friend away because it was not safe to trust the white people. In my mind, this is what is really happening in South Africa. Not racism, but incident based hate for your fellow man. We all seem to have our demons. 

It concerns me that it has become such an issue for people that Nelson Mandela is dying. The man is 94, he has lived a long and brilliant life. He does not deserve to become an insect under the microscope if this it is for him. He is not the only thing in this world maintaining the post apartheid South Africa. When he passes the world will not revert into what it was because we have been educated to move forward with ourselves as the human race. He helped educate us much in way other great men have, but also our parents and other elders. One man does not maintain an ideal. 

A little letter I wrote to President Obama as a reaction to the recent inhumane detainment and torture of over 200 Palestinian children, including a US citizen. 

Dear President Obama, 

I would like to challenge your current political ties with Israel. If someones was bullying one of your daughters say, young Natasha. And you had to be diplomatic with her bully what would you say to those pleading vulnerable eyes of hers, knowing she can’t protect herself but her father could and he chose to put his arms around her bully and comforted them instead. What are we teaching the children of Palestine by not responding to their desperate cries?  Now I’d like you to understand that you have the power to rally world leaders to support Palestine. Instead of seeking political gains I’d like to challenge you to seek humanity instead. 

Best regards,

The cold the tired the restless, the wounded, the dead unheard voices of Palestinian children. 

White South Africa Is Small

A piece of narrative social commentary for Matador Network.

I MUST be giving off bad vibes, because I’m on a Paris to Durban flight full of white Southern Africans and it still takes the woman sitting next to me five gin and tonics before she feels bold enough to talk to me.

Read more HERE.

Photo by Werner Vermaak

Post Apartheid South Africa is far from the utopian ‘rainbow nation’ envisioned by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. One of Africa’s most prosperous nations, the country is nevertheless still riddled with devastating social problems. South African writers have dealt with these social problems in diverse ways within their works, as well as looking back at the pernicious legacy of apartheid, which still haunts the country.

so today I went to a seminar headed by Justice Albie Sachs, a super hardcore but also cheery and relatable guy who believes in racial equality as much as I believe that this chair I’m sitting in will support my weight. the seminar was composed of graduate and undergraduate students although I’m pretty sure the only people who felt composed enough to ask questions were grad students. mostly he just answered questions as smoothly as if he had rehearsed them but sincerely because he didn’t need to have. some things i noted (not a conclusive list and not in any order):

  • the concept “soft vengeance” is a vision, not a methodology. living better than your enemy is just a thing he believes firmly in but it does not supplant activism at all because
  • Mandela (or any leader) =/= the Messiah or any kind of savior, since
  • it’s important not just to realize but remember that people like that are the articulation of ideas that have been growing for generations — that they are products of the movement and not the movements themselves. 
  • the heart of any movement is the fervent and in Sachs’ words joyous belief shared by the people who volunteer (who know the risks and dare anyway) in them.
  • in other words, what kept Sachs going and what fueled his energy was not pithy sayings and proverbs but rather purpose.
  • although he did say that one of his formative experiences was someone saying to him about quoting religious sources, “there are some things that politics can reach, and there are some things politics can’t reach.”

He said, “speaking from a position of privilege, what could I say?” about the movement asking him to speak. he was thinking, well, i’m white, what could they want from me? but that was the whole point of him speaking, to show that racial equality was a thing that could, should, would be achieved. although sometimes it might be easy to get trapped wondering “what do i have to offer, why is what i have to say even valuable or relevant”, everyone’s story is useful somewhere. 

what really struck me is his memory of what really drew him into being politically active, because prior to this experience he wasn’t at all. But at the recommendation of his mom he went to a poetry seminar given by Uys Krige about the poem “At five in the afternoon” by Garcia Lorca. what he said about connecting the inner and outer world with poetry really struck me because up to now I haven’t truly seen that as something I personally could do, I’d seen heard and appreciated other people doing that but for some reason until just now I didn’t believe I can also do that. But no, you can speak and express real things in real ways that aren’t too abstract or are just abstract enough. 

tl;dr: Justice Albie Sachs is supes inspirational and we must remember that movements are composed of dedicated, joyous people.

The God-less Complex


Poised by the post-cataclysmic silence… I am guised by the verbosity of the stigma of post-generations. Age is the wall between knowledge and wisdom. A bridge of sorts, transporting the birth of an eternal soul to the ends of supreme: Potential. This detrimental thought, proceeds to sprout verbs of an action unspoken. Concealed emotions through earnest intentions try to break out though; perverted inhibitions twist scriptures. These are the scenes from empty bottles, searching for relations.

To behold a black pearl, with a promise still as fickle as the winds of due change, are the prospects of a vision we have failed to comprehend. Our feet rest in clouds and our minds are enclosed by hands of doubt. These hands of ours, yes, these scales which blind, rob us of our senses. So barren is our sense of identity. Like the synonyms of God-lessness, ringing through the portal, diminished. 

Like the crashes of our coinage on soiled floors, planting seeds unseen, unheard of. In the scheme of things it seems, every beginning needs to cease. But where does one begin?


As the Revelation’s acumen, clothes itself within Sanity, the wolf’s howls shadow the silent bleeps.

The fibres wring open, as it is placed before the Genesis and the paradox converts this weave into a synthesis of Hippocratic belts, sacrilegious in its tempts, as it beats into a shame, a young wild nation.  We strive to tear down the establishment, the System of Maturity. We think we know.

Treading on the ledges of the bricks we sow, in the concrete jungle, these streets we call home. Confounded by the era of quick fixes, we chip ditches with each step and call it success to accumulate wealth. Though wealth without history is like currency with no forefathers founding its value. Illegitimate. Bastardly. This yellow brick road, clothed with green and black stripes and I, the pedestrian, cannot hear the sounding horns, calling for my soul to rise from the ashes. Through centuries of pain and anguish that has plagued these landscapes so richly defined by the grounds nurturing the treasures we seek to find. In the cages depicting gluttony in its truest sense, our synapses fail like the trees that once fell to make way for the faux towers which conceal their true nature in the cloak of social progression. Constantly online, wired not to conceive the sublime truth that has been passed through generations, around the sparks that ignited the boldness that raised kings and queens.

Now this little flame, kept alive only by a few, finds refuge in the hearts of those who see beyond the era of stolen identities and strive to define themselves by the character of being. To be or not to be, is the one true action that keeps those few from falling off the edges. For, their wall is like a tunnel with a light at the opening. Lights all around, on the sides glistening. This marvellous spectacle, with the aid of morning dew, caresses the fibres of my sense to absorb scents, and breathe this beauty of life, my mouth gasps in awe of the richness of knowing. As the taste of true understanding feeds my soul like the well of a thousand wishes drenched by the purity of fulfilment, I hear the sounds of a call that ring gently against the drum that beats when the vibes are good, when the sound of music is coloured by the tapestry of multi-being. Beings with me, we connect more than a network could ever allow. As each sentence marks a tick through my journey, I find beauty enshrined within my hands: Truth. To quote a fellow being, “The ink of a scholar, is worth a thousand times more than the blood of a martyr”.


Don’t Count Out the ANC

South Africa’s next elections are scheduled for today, the fifth general elections to take place since the end of apartheid and the beginning of majority rule. Since 1994, the African National Congress has won handily each general election, giving it uncontested control of the country’s presidency.

During the last general poll in 2009, the ANC garnered almost 66 percent of the vote, less than it had received in 2004 yet significantly more than winners of many competitive elections around the world. Even after this lopsided victory, some were quick to declare the ANC’s dominance to be fadingwondering how long South Africans would be able to support a party unable or unwilling to respond to citizens’ needs.

This theme of decline continued after the ANC again won big in the 2011 municipal elections, securing 62 percent of the overall vote, well ahead of the runner-up Democratic Alliance’s 24 percent. For comparison, the Nelson Mandela-led ANC won under 63 percent of the vote in 1994, the first post-Apartheid general elections.

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