From 1948-1994, South Africa enacted the system of Apartheid, effectively curtailing the rights of the majority black inhabitants in order to promulgate white minority rule. People designated as Black, Coloured, and Indian were evicted from areas designated as “white only” and forced to relocate to segregated townships built on the peripheries of cities and towns. Forced to build on lands that are not legally their own, many houses do not have proper services, such as electricity, clean water, and sewage. The government does not help the people to create a reliable infrastructure, so the people are pretty much on their own, forced to make do in townships as large as a million people.
In The Beautiful Struggle (Dokument Press), Swedish photographer Per Englund shows us pictures taken a decade after Nelson Mandela was elected into office, revealing another side to township life, shedding light on a previously dark world where style is a way of life.
As Mlamli Figlan writes in the book’s introduction, “If you dress nicely you feel cool, you feel like you are worth something. You might not even have bread but you will still sacrifice your money on the latest fashion. Township style is different even though we dress in western brands. It’s the way we put clothes together than makes it unique. When I am wearing more expensive clothes than a white man, I finally feel free.”
It is this freedom that Englund captures in his book, the freedom of self-expression through fashion, music, and culture. Englund’s South Africa shows us that pleasure and style give meaning to life. Training his camera on the youth of the nation, their beauty and pride, Englund’s photographs help bridge the divide, inspiring viewers with a bold, positive vibes, and reminding us of the importance of sharing uplifting stories of post-colonial Africa. What we discover in The Beautiful Struggle is that there is far more to freedom than meets the eye.
As Marika Girehsel explains in the book’s foreword, “Despite the burdensome legacy from the apartheid years, it is not grief and lust for vengeance that we encounter in South Africa today. Here there is pride and the will to create better conditions for all those who now live in a democratic country. Of course there is disappointment and frustration over the fact that the new government has been allow to fulfill its electoral promises. Many of the townships still suffer from poverty and the AIDS epidemic hangs like a cloud of sadness over all of society. How then, can the image be so positive? I think this has to do with the human ability to want to participate in affecting the situation, sometimes against all odds.”
It is this spirit that infuses The Beautiful Struggle and the people within, the people who recognize the injustices of the past and now come together to rebuild the nation as a just and sovereign state.
All Photos ©Per Englund, courtesy of Dokument Press
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.