MEDIA: Photographs

YEAR: 2009

Apartheid in South Africa may have ended in 1994, but many former soldiers and fighters from the antiapartheid armies feel disenfranchised from the democracy that their underground activities helped establish.

Many nights we spent together in Katlehong and Tokhoza looking for  comrades. Sikhumbuzo and Scotch leading the way to local joints, shabeens, at the corner of a street, in dark courtyars, on collapsed beds, in shacks. Those townships are populated with living ghosts, broken by the violence they experience and perpetrated for the liberation of South Africa, and undermine when the politic doesn’t need them anymore. Hyper violent, hyper abusive, hyper humiliating.  

Sikhumbuzo at age 14, had three death warrants on his head. ‘Kill at sight’ was his label. He carried a weapon, the way other kids carry schoolbags. He insisted to pose in his uniform, and under his camouflage, a printed T-shirt with one of his comrade who had passed away. The night is so dark in the township... We went to the petrol station to take his picture to avoid the terrible orange light. Those electricity polls had been installed by the apartheid regime, with this very particular tone to distinguish from afar the black neighbourhoods and the white neighbourhoods, who were lit up with white light.  

Benett was also one of them. He was an giant, with sad eyes. I saw his back when we all went to a retreat in the mountains, close to Johannesburg. A retreat helping them developp coping mechanisms, slow down all their addictions. Benett especially. He prepared himself to go to the sweat lodge and release some of his pain. His powerful back shrank as he entered the dark, steammy tent. Back to his life, back to his old habits. One night he became violent towards his mother. She called the police. They locked him up and beat him to death.

Santos after the retreat, decided to find a backy and go to the country side to uproot some beautiful red hot tourch lilies and sell them in the township. His true dream was to grow roses though, but he had first to gather some money. I realised how tender and romantic he was when he engraved our names on a big rock in the mountains.

Those broken men had the great spirit of people who had fought and believed in something larger, better than them, but who fell through the cracks of the collective amnesia, like sadly most war veterans.

Touch - World Press Photo

by Joop Swart Masterclass 2009

Photographs: Ali Akbar Shirjian, Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, Bénédicte Kurzen, Dirk-Jan Visser, Don McNeill Healy, Gihan Tubbeh, Kathryn Cook, Kosuke Okahara, Mads Nissen, Matt Eich, Simona Ghizzoni, Sohrab Hura

Publisher: World Press Photo

96 pages

Year: 2009