Photographers Cyprien Clément-Delmas and Lindokuhle Sobekwa remember documenting a deeply conservative community living in the suburb of Daleside.
Photographers Cyprien Clément-Delmas and Lindokuhle Sobekwa remember documenting a deeply conservative community living in the suburb of Daleside, south of Johannesburg – a place marred by hardship and addiction.
Growing up in Thokoza, a township southeast of Johannesburg, South Africa, Magnum Photos member Lindokuhle Sobekwa was raised to respect the collectivist spirit of Ubuntu. “I am because we are,” he says.
Like most families in the township, Sobekwa’s parents spent most of their time at work. After his father, a carpenter, passed away, his mother was charged to support four children on her own. She worked in the nearby Afrikaner township of Daleside as a sleep-in domestic worker for a family who forbid her children to enter their home at any time.
The feeling of being denied, combined with a sense of curiosity, stayed with Sobekwa, and would come to shape his destiny. In 2012, at the age of 16, he was invited to participate in the Of Joy and Soul Project – a long-term art initiative funded by the French art foundation Rubis Mécénat.
French photographer Cyprien Clément-Delmas and Magnum Photos member Bieke Depoorter launched a photography workshop that Sobekwa joined. “Lindokuhle quickly stood out. We started to spend time together in the township taking pictures,” Clément-Delmas says.
“One day, Lindokuhle told me about Daleside: ‘There is an Afrikaner neighbourhood not too far, we should go there to investigate.’ We drove there and became fascinated by the place: the atmosphere, the people, the colours, and the stories they were telling us.”
From this exploratory visit, a four-year project was born, documenting what remained of the decaying town of Daleside. The book, entitled Daleside: Static Dreams (Gost), brings together portraits of the township’s residents, a mixture of Black and white working-class families who live amid the eerie, desolate landscape.
“The first year was difficult for us to photograph the community,” Sobekwa says. “Most people said no. Daleside is a very conservative community. Most people there are Christians, so we began attending church service and met a preacher who introduced us to the congregation. That helped the community not to view us as a threat. The community started warming up to us and allowing us in their homes.”
But without the presence of Clément-Delmas, Sobekwa felt the energies of racism; he was mistaken for a criminal when he came to Daleside to photograph alone.
“The population in Daleside, like in so many other communities in the world: it suffers from a lack of education and opportunity. Alcohol and drugs fill the void for some; religion for others. Violence and abuse cause more violence and abuse. Often, these cycles of abuse last for generations,” Clément-Delmas says.
“The lack of resources and work puts the society of Daleside under an inevitable collective tension. Daleside is one of the rare places in South Africa where the Black working class and the white working-class are equally poor.”
“That made me realise that social inequalities are what deeply divides a society. Social justice is what we really have to fight for, here and everywhere.”
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