50point5 is a fine art photography project born out of the legacy of apartheid that examines the barriers that divide the people of South Africa today.
The 50.5 km long route I drove to work as a part time photography lecturer at a private university of applied design in Stellenbosch, one of the wealthiest towns in South Africa, began to symbolise the legacy of apartheid to me over the period of five years I lectured at the university. This was further reinforced by the profile of the predominantly white students at the university, most of whom came from extremely privileged backgrounds. The handful of non-white students were nearly all bursary students from the townships, some of whom could not afford the transport costs to the university, let alone study expenses.
The project culminated in a BOOK titled 50point5 consisting of 50.5 images created along the route. All 50.5 (Fifty and a half) images in the book are available as collectable limited edition fine art gicleé prints to buy in a series of five prints per image. The following five images are currently prepared for exhibition purposes.
South Africa is a country of exceptional natural beauty in stark contrast to the abject poverty the majority of the population live in. The damage caused by apartheid to the people of the country is almost beyond description, with wounds running so deep that they require generations to heal. It is a country divided, first by race, then by wealth, with the wealth predominantly still in the hands of the whites.
South Africa is a fledgling democracy with one of the most advanced constitutions in the world. The democratically elected current government, in power since 1994, has brought the country to its knees through rampant corruption and cronyism. The majority party rewarded cadres loyal to the party with jobs in government, regardless of the cadres skill sets and level of education, installing an incompetent government that has crippled the country through greed and mismanagement.
The majority party continuously blames apartheid for its incompetence. Whilst the legacy of apartheid can never be discounted nor ignored, it does not excuse the majority party led government’s corruption, incompetence and mismanagement. Namibia, a country ravaged by war and racism, neighbouring South Africa, achieved independence in 1992, two years before South Africa. Today it is the second strongest economy in Africa – peaceful, stable and secure. The newly elected democratic government of Namibia successfully transformed the war torn country into the united nation it is today. In the same time period South Africa has fallen to pieces, as race focussed today as it was during apartheid. In fact, there are more race based laws today than there were during apartheid.
As a white male born in Cape Town, South Africa, during apartheid, my views are likely to be dismissed by my critics as ‘racist’. Few will look deeper into my background, simply dismissing me as a racist Afrikaner due to my Dutch surname, a stereotype that I have struggled with throughout my life. I am neither racist nor an Afrikaner. I do not belong to, nor am I loyal to, any political party. When I vote, I vote for the political party that I believe will make the most positive difference in the lives of all South Africans at the time, regardless of race or religion.
Born to a British mother and a first generation South African father of immediate Dutch descent I was raised in a middle class English speaking family in both English and Dutch tradition, brought up to evaluate people for who they are as a person and not the colour of their skin. I only learned to speak Afrikaans fluently whilst completing compulsory conscripted military service as Afrikaans was the first language of the military, commanded by white Afrikaner nationalists. As a conscientious objector it was too painful not to learn the language. I served as a field medic, refusing to be trained on, or carry a firearm for the military, to ensure that I would never be placed in a position that I would have to use it for a cause I did not believe in. Labeled a traitor by the military command and branded the anti-Christ, my military service was a prison sentence to me, not the ‘national service’ it was labeled.
Following the completion of my ‘national service’ I pursued a career in photography, that I had been studying on a part time basis since finishing high school. As a student and fledgling photojournalist I saw the best and worst South Africa had to offer. The majority of white South Africans have never spent meaningful time in a township and, until they do, will never truly understand the legacy of apartheid and the financial chasm between the two worlds. South Africa is a country of extremes and the difference in the extreme wealth and extreme poverty of the population still shocks me to this day. The fact that the few built their personal wealth on the backs of many, still clinging to it like vultures to a corpse, sickens me.
The barriers that divide South Africa as a nation are extensive, some blatantly forced, some more subtle, barely detectable. It amazes me that some people will obey the painted road marking on a road but will circumvent an electrified fence to violently rob those that have. With time to myself to think driving the 50.5 km route, that took approximately 45 minutes depending on traffic, I observed the barriers that divide South Africa as a people. I began to photograph my observations.
The N2, the national highway that links Cape Town and Somerset West, is notoriously dangerous. The N2 highway has been the scene of numerous public protests both during apartheid and since, with protestors setting fire to car tires in the road, barricading the road and throwing objects like rocks, bricks and bottles at motorists, in some instances fatally. It has also been the scene of robberies, high-jackings (car robbery at gun point) and cash in transit heists. It is very dangerous to stop along the highway, to the extent that driving on a flat tyre is preferable to stopping to change it on the side of the road. As a result of this I created some of the images from the moving car, at times stopping at risk to capture specific images. Shooting from a car travelling at approximately 100km/hour epitomises Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ and I chose to embrace this process, drawing on my experience as a photographer to achieve the creative effect I wanted.
As a photographer I am obsessed with light, line, shape, form, colour, texture, balance and symmetry. All of the images in this book are considered and the composition intentional, either including or excluding barriers that control and divide. Some of the images took numerous attempts on numerous trips before I achieved the result I wanted, creating the images presented in this book. The images are created from the detached viewpoint of a white person of privilege, observing the surroundings from, or close to, the safety of a private vehicle, unwilling to get too close.
In keeping with the reportage style of the images the images have not been retouched other than the removal of the occasional dust mark from the sensor. They are true to life, created intentionally to be a true and accurate reflection of the reality of a small sliver of life in South Africa. They are my observation of, and protest to, the lack of true meaningful reform in South Africa. The people of South Africa have suffered immensely, both at the hands of the nationalist Afrikaner apartheid government and the so called ‘liberation party’, referred to as the ‘ruling party’. The fact that they are in truth civil servants, not royalty, seems lost on them. Former Marxists, now reborn capitalists, they seem intent on riding the gravy train until it runs out of gravy. And it will. Soon. If it hasn’t already.
I have created a route map of the journey in Google Maps and marked the approximate position each photograph was created from. This is for interest only. Please DO NOT attempt to stop at the marked points, it is very dangerous.
This project is a call to action. It is the result of years of work, self reflection and reflection on South Africa as a nation. It is a plea to South Africans to recognise and respect each other as people. To set aside differences and embrace each other as South African first and foremost. It is an attempt to show the rest of the world some of the challenges that South Africa faces as a nation. It is a request that you, the reader, the detached observer, discard your preconceived ideas about South Africa and look deeper. South Africa is a nation divided. There are eleven official languages representative of the cultural diversity of the country. It is a complex situation with no quick fix. It will take decades to uplift.
It starts with you.