Crowded in between a landlord and fear of Xenophobia in the streets of South Africa. Photo John Robinson
The Madiengua family lives in a over crowded flat in the Point area of Durban, South Africa or “Little Nigeria” as it is known.
The Madiengua family live with their personal belongings packed in plastic bags in case of immediate eviction by the landlord of their building in the Point area of Durban, South Africa, Paty Madiengua stands with his wife Yvette and 4 children L to R Ephraim (15), Sabrina (14), Geffrey (10) and Genesis (2) in the kitchen of their flat ready be on the move again.
Yvette comes from the village Buta in Oriental Province, DRC. her parents were killed by the DRC army, she escaped to Kinshasa with her brother and sister where her brother went missing. Yvette met Paty an egg vendor on the streets of Kinshasa and followed him to South Africa with their 4 children.
Paty works night shift as a security guard in the city and Yvette sells clothes on the beach front. Mr Madiengua’s salary does not match up to the rent on their 14th floor flat, the landlords in the area are getting rid of families on the over crowding rule. While the Madiengua family feel safe in their flat they struggle to keep up with the rent and cost of a family and they are “fearful of the xenophobia in the townships”.
Hate, fear and love are also 4 letter words; and by another 4 letter word, if I don’t grapple with their out working each and every day of my life.
H is now a friend of mine; she lives just off South Beach with her husband and works in her brother’s restaurant at the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street across from the old grave yard. She makes a petite Ethiopian coffee that my homeopath should never know about, and with its clove infusion is my favorite shot of down town coffee. Her brother’s restaurant is a scent filled alcove, without a menu he serves meat and salad on a plate of injera; a sour flatbread from their home in Ethiopia. H’s coffee is roasted and brewed on charcoal in front of me, she serves it in fine porcelain that her friend G sells alongside the coffee beans from the highlands of their homeland. It is because of local ‘hate of other’ that the brother has said no to photos of H here, it is out of respect for him that H quietly shook her head to me when I took out the M6 just off this road in down town Durban.
F is fearful and is still the victim of a brutal hijacking about 3 years ago. F can’t go out at night alone, and has panic attacks in dark places.
Fear is so debilitating, it’s a part of the psyche of many people who I know around me. As an age we are preoccupied with the concept of ‘safety’, America has a department devoted to the safety of their homeland. South Africa is devoted to the issue of their ‘crime’. For all our other advances we are not a people of can do but a people of can’t do due to our fear. I would like to be able to take F for a walk along a down town street, to sample coffee with clove, I feel that it will be awhile yet before F is ready to browse for porcelain on Dr Pixley KaSeme Street. F’s fear is real, I can see it; there is nothing put on about it.
I will always love X, L and Y. But I lost my temper with L a long time ago, I did apologise and I am so sorry for what I did.
L is deeply hurt and I have to love from a distance. I live with these consequences and now know that love is not a fluffy thing. Love is deep like a river, it has a power of its own, and I have to love for all of us for now.
I will never stop loving and doing what I can for X, L and Y. I will continue to walk along side F and maybe one day we will go browse for porcelain together. I will be a friend to H and all others in little Addis Ababa on the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street.
Names have been changed to protect all those involved in this down town walk of mine.
South Africa has a bad reputation on the crime front. But as a street photographer in South Africa I have not been mugged yet, and I have worked on these streets for about 20 years now.
Respect, this is someones home, people also live here. Before I leave my house I know what I want to message, though I might not have preconceived images in mind. If somebody just came up to me on the street with a camera I would be pissed. So I don’t do the same; I rather say Sir or Ma am, I am John Robinson and I am a photographer, I am doing a project on… and I have just made a few new friends in an area that I had none in a few moments ago. If things get edgy I have somebody who will vouch for me too…
A knowledge of local culture overrules knowledge of local language. I am a native tongue English speaker with just a smattering of Congolese French and even less Arabic and Swahili. What I do have is an understanding and appreciation of Ubuntu (African culture) and a wide general knowledge of things African. This knowledge continues to open so many doors without me trying to get my tongue around so many different languages.
I go local… I live in Durban, to get around my city I walk and use the local mini bus taxis. This practice keeps me ‘in the zone’ I am now comfortable on the streets of this busy port city. If I am hungry, I will eat from the street vendors rather then the big franchises. As I walk I greet all those I pass on the pavements. This comfort shows; I read as local and in the know, not as somebody out of his depth, an easy target.
These truths have worked as well for me in The Sudan, Uganda, The DRC, Johannesburg and in West Africa too… Yes I am also street wise, I know how to walk with purpose and keep in touch with my surroundings at the same time too. Afrikans are a hospitable people, and Africa is a welcoming place.
If you want to photograph on our shores, just know that this is our home, respect our culture and immerse your self in our way of life.
I describe clannish behavior as following: One against his brother, brothers against sisters, siblings against cousins, a group of people against an other and so on to the end of the county. Bitterness runs deep; and there can be no forgiveness as it is beyond anyone to unravel the resulting multi generational mess.
Fiction writing has many examples of clannish ways, stories of ancient People who are caught by ways of the past; who cannot see new ways forward. History has more examples of the same; the Balkans is a place where the people of the same land have fought brother against neighbor over issues of old. Jean M. Auel also writes about a young girl; a medicine woman trained in the art of healing, shunned by her own people and forced to leave a place due to the infighting cave men in her land. It does not matter if it is your sister or your own cousin; it does not matter if there are issues of belief and appearance. sometimes it is just a matter of the potential gold in your pocket…
The shunning of the other in our midst or clannish behavior is the issue behind racism, xenophobia or genocide call it what you will.
We live in a communal village, and we are all cousins in the Human family…
Fear of the other took the United Kingdom out of the European Union; this takes me back to the Roman Empire and the Huns on it’s eastern frontier, and the ongoing mistrust between the sedentary and the nomad.
Both peoples have a thirst for land, and we all live in the same village now, it’s called Earth.
Understanding is a good antidote for fear-of-other or xenophobia. No country is really an island in the end. Humankind will have to live together, and just get to understand each other in our midst…
Julius Malema; the young vocal leader of EFF is a festering thorn in the side of many South Africans who support the Democratic Alliance. ‘Juju’ as he is known on the streets of South Africa is known for anti eurocentric rants like “one boer one bullet”.
Julius Malema came out of the ranks of Jacob Zuma’s ANC as the leader of their youth wing, he was also a close supporter of Jacob Zuma. Disgruntled, Malema left the ANC to form the Economic Freedom Fighters a vocal leftist political party with much inside knowledge of the ANC. The EFF are now in overall third place in the South African Local Government 2016 elections. Juju is now in the position of king maker to the Democratic Alliance to the ire of some of its pale supporters in some areas where there is no outright winner in these elections.
South Africa is now in the age of coalition politics whether some people in the country like it or not…