“iwasshot in Joburg is a [South African] business venture established to provide a platform for former street kids who received photography training through the iwasshot FOUNDATION,” says Bernard Viljoen, the architect who founded the three-month project after community service for a boozy misdemeanour.Bernard Viljoen and the young photographers from the Twilight Shelter, a boys’ outreach centre. They ramble through Hillbrow in Johannesburg’s inner city in search of beauty and stories captured in a frameInitially teaching basic photography skills to street children, the project has expanded and now, flash forward, these budding artists receive six months of photography training, using disposable cameras to document their environment.The young photographers from the Twilight Shelter, a boys’ outreach centre, now ramble through Hillbrow in Johannesburg’s inner city in search of beauty and stories captured in a frame.“From there they receive more in-depth digital photography and computer training for another six months. Once they have completed the year they can join the iwasshot brand and start generating their own income,” says Viljoen.At the end of each year, an exhibition showcases the boys’ photography, which also goes on sale. The establishing shot this year shows boys holding disposable cameras, in a strong stance that says “I know what I am doing and I belong here too”.FROM THE SHADOWS, INTO LIGHTViljoen says, “… how these boys are transformed, from when they started out to being proud citizens, actively participating in their society, discussing their camera angles, colour and composition, it is incredibly humbling to see”.The project aims to enrich the lives of street kids who have found their calling through a lens. Viljoen wanted to further their opportunities, developing a skills transference division to create opportunities for economic growth, social development, and job creation.Solani Dube, a former student at iwasshotin joburg, says he had no self-esteem; he was” living with no direction”. He had never thought of himself as a “normal human being”, but now he is studying law.The words “I was shot in Joburg” can elicit fear, seeming more suited to a newspaper headline, but Viljoen thought it was an expression of life in Hillbrow, with its violent reputation.“I believed that if a brand is relevant, conceptual and slightly controversial, that it will take off. It did. It has now been four years and we are going strong.”Hard at work in the studio, Viljoen wanted to further the boys’ opportunities, developing a skills transference division to create opportunities for economic growth, social development, and job creationViljoen says the project aims to “To create quality products; to establish a brand. We want to become part of the South African economy rather than sitting at a robot begging for a hand-out.”The project’s success has allowed the team to move into a permanent space at Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg’s teeming central business district.Toni Sithole, another student, says, “I am moving forward with myself, I am improving, and I am doing something for myself. I see myself in the future as a person, opening new doors for myself. Hillbrow is a new playground for budding photographers.”He also wanted the boys “to find beauty where you thought there was none. If you move your eye, you can see a different world and whatever you see can make an impact on people”.AN UNFAMILIAR LIFEViljoen is interested in people living on the periphery of society, people who don’t have a voice, but who have experienced so much in their lives.Little previews of city life are exposed in the photographs; glimpses into lives unfamiliar to suburbanites. Shadows reflecting off a leg or a sign are fragments, enticing viewers to look deeper and be witness to a transformation, an invisible human being becoming a person with a voice.Viljoen believes consistency is important with his charges as they have had such volatile, tumultuous lives. So each week, he showed up.He says, “For some of the boys, the project has also meant feeling more at home. There are stories of neglect, abuse, being orphaned. Abandoned in different ways by the families and systems that give children the love, support and nurturing they need. Iwasshotin Joburg is a way to claim something back, to make something of value, to be of value.”Sandile Mdlalose says, “I used to eat out of rubbish dumps and beg. [Now] When people talk to me, they speak to me as if I am a big person. Everyone can do something for themselves; it doesn’t matter where you are from. I believe in myself now, I have a strength that I never had before.”“I tell them the cameras are like our little AK47s,” says Viljoen. “They give us permission to walk the street. If you keep it in your hand it elevates you above the everyday street life.”The project’s success has allowed the team to move into a permanent space at Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg’s teeming central business district (Images: iwasshot in joburg team)To Viljoen, Johannesburg is the most interesting, textured city in South Africa.“I’m lucky enough to work almost solely in the heart of the city, and over the years it’s become more striking to me. It’s the synergy of history, drive for success, passion and interesting, warm people that give Joburg a buzz of energy.“If you walk around and experience the space – new and old – you’re always treated to a visual overload. Suburban dwellers, who don’t hit the streets of Joburg, never really see or understand its beauty. They’re blind-shot by unjustified fear.”The snapshots, he says, capture the beauty, intriguing spaces, textures layers, and diverse people of Johannesburg.“Hillbrow is an assault on the senses … the towering blocks of flats draw your eyes upwards and you’re mesmerised by the rainbow-coloured clothing hanging on practically every balcony, the rowdy sounds of street vendors bargaining and schoolchildren laughing and chatting.“There are contrasts … the countless broken window panes glistening in the sun and the vivid colours of the fresh fruit sold by the vendors … the boys see photo opportunities lurking on every corner. Over the years, they’ve produced really powerful images.”Pritchard Ndlovu manages the studio at Arts on Main. He says that the iwasshot space has changed his life; he now has a future and it’s thanks to the lens; “The photos allow the boys to tell stories. It is an incredible initiative that brings joy to the boys and inspires a sense of belonging.”Viljoen adds: “I have succeeded in this if every kid is able to tell a story with their photos – their own – if I can make them feel worthy of sharing it with the world, visually documenting their stories, their observations, their hopes and dreams.”First published on Media Club South Africa – Brand South Africa’s library of quality images and articles, available for free.
9 December 2013 As we drove around the tiny village of Mqekezweni in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, Nozolile Mtirara looked shaken and rather depressed. The area brings back both good and bad memories of her late husband Justice, a brother and a close friend of the late Nelson Mandela. SAnews caught up with Mtirara recently. Whenever Mtirara speaks about Mandela, Justice’s name is mentioned, because the two were almost inseparable. Mandela moved from his native Qunu to the village of Mqekezweni when he was just nine years old, following the death of his father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa.Preparation The then head of the village, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, had offered to become a guardian to the young Mandela when his mother could not afford to send him to the kind of schools that would prepare him for life. Chief Dalindyebo was Justice’s father, but Justice and Mandela treated each other as blood brothers – there is no such thing as a half brother in African culture. It is at Mqekezweni that Mandela underwent the traditional Xhosa initiation to manhood at the age of 16, and because he was now a “man”, he owned property for the first time and could also take a wife. It is at this village that he attended a one-room mission school where he studied English, history and geography for the first time. It is at this same school, which was also used as a church, that he met Winnie Madikizela, the daughter of the church’s reverend, who would later become his wife.Strengthened by circumstance SAnews found the school still intact, with its original building and furniture. During his recent visits there, Mandela had instructed the elders in the area that the structure, together with a hut he shared with Justice, should not be tampered with. “He gave strict instructions that the church and the hut which he used to sleep in together with my husband, not be demolished, but must receive constant renovations,” said Mtirara. “He even bought glasses for the windows and ordered people to renovate it inside.” Mandela built a house for Mtirara and was apparently very fond of her – a relationship strengthened by the circumstances that led to her marriage with Justice. It was in the early 1940s, as Mandela recalls in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, that the chief summoned him and Justice to a meeting.Arranged marriages Mandela had just returned to Mqekezweni for the holidays from Fort Hare University in nearby Alice, where he had been studying towards a law degree. At the meeting, Chief Dalindyebo shocked the two when he told them about their arranged marriages to two local girls. Mtirara was one of the girls. The announcement took both Mandela and Justice by surprise. Lobolo (the dowry) would be paid and the marriages were to take place immediately. Not only would the marriage affect Mandela’s studies at Fort Hare, but he would be forced to marry someone he had never spoken to or had a romantic relationship with. The chief was acting according to Tembu law and custom, under which arranged marriages were a regular occurrence. Tembu is the clan to which Mandela belonged.‘Rebel against my own people’ “Everything was in such a hurry but both men were just not into it, and the chief would not hear any of it,” Mtirara recalls. Mandela later wrote: “With all due respect to the young woman’s family, I would be dishonest if I said that the girl the Regent had selected for me was my dream bride … At that time I was more advanced socially and politically, while I would not have considered fighting the political system of the white man, I was quite prepared to rebel against the system of my own people”. After days of soul searching, the two managed to escape their arranged marriages and boarded the first available train to Johannesburg. Mandela found a job as a policeman on the mines. It was in Johannesburg that he later met African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Oliver Tambo, who helped him pursue his dream to become a lawyer. It is also through Tambo’s and Walter Sisulu’s influence that he joined the ANC. But Justice, who also found a job at the mines, would later return to Mqekezweni to reunite with the girl his father had wanted him to marry. Justice, who was four years older than Mandela, died in 1974, leaving Mtirara with two sons and four daughters. As for Mandela, he reunited with Winnie, his sweetheart from church – but only after he had already married and divorced Evelyn Mase, a devout woman he met in Johannesburg through Tambo. Mase apparently disapproved of Mandela’s political beliefs.‘Something of a fairy tale’ “I was doubtful that my marriage with Justice would work because Mandela had made it clear that for his part he was not returning to that arrangement, and I believe it’s something of a fairy tale if you can call it that. I believe God has kept me and Madiba to tell these stories,” says Mtirara. Today, the woman, who had become close to Mandela, said she would remember the former president of South Africa not only as someone who escaped with her “potential husband”, but as a man whose noble intentions had changed the world.‘Destiny’ “Imagine if they had stayed here and allowed the marriages to take place at that time? He probably would not have ended up in Johannesburg and he probably would not have involved himself with the politics of the day … it was a blessing in disguise,” Mtirara said. She respects Mandela for standing up to the chief and not allowing himself to be united with the woman he never loved. “Even though my husband and I ended up getting married, what was meant not to happen did not happen and our marriage was probably destined to take place, but not at that time”. Like many South Africans, Mtirara holds Mandela in high regard: “He was and will always remain an amazing man, both him and I can rest assured that we have travelled our road and told our story, and most importantly there is peace in the world because of men like him.” SAnews.gov.za
The Indian Tea Association has countered an Oxfam report on plantation labour rights violation, saying it left out the share of the price paid to a producer providing employment to the workers as well as the non-cash component of their wages.Oxfam, a confederation of 20 NGOs focussing on the alleviation of global poverty, a week ago published a report on “Addressing the human cost of Assam Tea – an agenda for change to respect, protect and fulfil human rights on Assam tea plantations”.The study by Oxfam India and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, based on interviews with 510 plantation labourers in 50 tea estates across Assam, said that the workers earned ₹137-167 despite working for over 13 hours a day.The study also said supermarkets and tea brands “typically capture over two-thirds of the price paid by consumers for Assam tea in India – with just 7.2% remaining for workers on tea estates”.In a letter to Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar on Wednesday, ITA secretary general Arijit Raha said the Oxfam’s study came to conclusions on issues based on findings in some tea gardens that did not reflect the true picture of the industry.