In South Africa, photography has always been intimately connected to the political. Photographers such as David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng are well-known for their life-long commitment to the documentation of the political in everyday life and experience. Both Goldblatt and Mofokeng appear in the recent exhibition/book Rise and Fall of Apartheid (curated/edited by Okwui Enwezor and Rory Bester). There are younger generations of photographers working today who while doing important work are not necessarily part of a system that enables education, visibility and professional development. Thapelo Maphakela is one of a new generation of documentary photographers and photojournalists drawing attention to the lived experiences of South Africans (and immigrants to South Africa) whose lives are not facilitated by the post-apartheid experience. The conditions of advanced capitalism, and its historical relationship to the apartheid state, are ubiquitous in South Africa today. Much has been written about the events of Marikana but there are also narratives about individuals living on the edges of existence, trying to survive, quite literally on the edges of urban environments.
Maphakela’s photographs focus on a twenty-seven year old man from Mpumalana, South Africa, who travelled to the city of Pretoria to look for work two years ago. Similarly to so many others, he has not yet found work. He has subsequently been living in an informal community of men, near a Highway, on the outskirts of Pretoria. The men come from other parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe. To survive some of them work as Car Guards and use the money to buy food. The photographs are a human and intimate portrayal of human bonds and survival in economic, social and political conditions where there are extreme disparities between rich and poor. This is, of course, not simply a story about South Africa.