Enthralling personal story as photographer from South Africa

photography program at Thokoza township, to which his family relocated. He was aware, as a child, that he thought through images, imagining what he was experiencing. When he came across cameras, he realized that there was equipment available – an unassuming device, a perforated piece of clear plastic, as well as a reaction capable of expressing his thought processes.

Thokoza is one of the settlements located on the outskirts of South African towns and cities as a result of the colonial period or apartheid territorial segregation. Black South Africans weren’t permitted to reside inside “whites only” residential areas; however, they were essential labor for a low-paying city. They built housing from any materials they could find to construct shelter.

Lockdown. Lindokuhle Sobekwa

While Thokoza is just 26km from Johannesburg, the country’s largest commercial capital seems as far like a different planet. The insufficiency of many townships and the unwavering dedication to one another essential to make the most of life in difficult conditions is apparent in the work of Sobekwa.

researcher of the visual identity as well as the tradition that documentary photography has left. I had the pleasure of meeting Sobekwa when he received an academic scholarship to study at Johannesburg’s Market Photo Workshop in the year 2015. I’ve conducted many interviews on the creation of his work that I have drawn from to analyze his work.

I’ve been impressed by Sobekwa’s clearly stated goal: to portray Thokoza in a manner that is different from the image it had in the 1980s – a time of apartheid, as a site of awe-inspiring violence against police and also each other, which the shadow government sparked.

Lockdown. Lindokuhle Sobekwa

I spoke with him earlier in the past year about his forthcoming book, I Carry Her Picture with Me. I was again captivated by his capacity to imagine the vast narratives in South African history: migrations to cities for a better living, the violent dissolution of families, and the disappearances of loved ones in the deep bowels of gold mines.

These rifts caused gaps in the narratives of family members that were never healed. Photography was Sobekwa’s method to establish a tentative, real connection with what was lost and discover a path forward. The exploration of his internal struggle, as well as the external circumstances that have shaped his family – and all that is unspoken and inaccessible creates images that dance with dimensions and depth, brimming with of ghosts and phantoms.

Stories interconnected

These two works that earned him the FNB Art Prize – Lockdown and Ezilalini (The Country). The two series could not be as different. While Lockdown is a look at life in Thokoza, Ezilalini is a journey to Tsomo in the Eastern Cape province, from where his grandfather and his mother first emigrated. Apartheid forced people of color South Africans to small territories that gave arable land where they used to live for a long time in white farms. Incapable of earning money in these homelands, most sought work as laborers migrants to the cities.

Ezilalini. Lindokuhle Sobekwa

Lockdown The Lockdown and Ezilalini are two narratives that intertwine. The historical context that brought about Thokoza can be described as the story that displaced thousands of people from the stunning landscapes that Sobekwa reconnects with when he returns to the spot where the umbilical cords and the bones belonging to his family members are laid to rest.


The COVID-19 lockdown took place in 2020, Sobekwa was not able to find much work to do. When businesses shut down, and income dwindled for many people living in townships. The safety guidelines heard all over the globe were hilarious to those who lived within proximity of the shacks. However, it wasn’t a laughing thing.

Sobekwa lived with the surreal officials who railed at the social distancing and the heightened reality of his everyday life: the intimates and interdependencies, the economic despair and anxieties of the people in his vicinity.

He sat down with the camera and started to recount his experiences. Sobekwa’s photos show the slow development of how the pandemic has exacerbated the violence caused by a wide-ranging inequality. There are also beautiful moments of love, community, and compassion.

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