Cry My Beloved Country
Photographer: Kim Ludbrook
"Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another," Nelson Mandela The late Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC ) brought an end to the minority rule of white South Africans over the majority community of black people 25 years ago thus ending one of the most unjust systems of racial repression in history: apartheid. For the first time ever black people were allowed to vote and decide their own destiny.
The first free and fair elections in 1994 marked a huge shift in consciousness for the country and the beginning of what millions hoped would be a dream of a multiracial "Rainbow Nation." The stark reality is at present very different. Rampant corruption by former President Jacob Zuma along with leading ANC politicians and businessmen, 33 percent unemployment and racial tensions are but a fraction of the problems the nation faces. Millions of poor, primarily black South Africans, continue to struggle for basic services such as access to water and electricity, which has resulted in violent "service delivery" riots. The "Fees Must Fall" protest has seen an uprising of millennial black students who demand free education. To boot, the African nation has one of the world's highest crime rates, and the ongoing struggle over land rights coupled with common rhetoric of racism has left many, including me, wondering if Mandela's dream of a free people will ever happen?
This retrospective photo essay, depicting the chronology of South Africa's history from the arrival of the first white men in 1652, looks at South Africa's very soul and mirrors the journey of this infant democracy through its, at times, painful path to find balance over the past 15 years. I have always felt that my country has an incredibly bitter/sweet soul. That one minute there can be an especially dark and terrible event yet the next minute there can be the most amazingly uplifting and inspirational moment. This duality is also reflected in the essay because, as a photojournalist, I feel that I am a mirror to my country and that by capturing both the dark and light of the human condition I can give hope to the dialogue that there may be no Rainbow Nation. The fear is that the common issues that blight most post-colonial African countries, like corruption, dictatorship, and disconnect of the ruling party from the masses, may rear its ugly head in South Africa and rip the rainbow dream from us. Many poor South Africans feel cheated while they watch helplessly from their marginalized lives in shanty towns as a small number of so-called "Black Diamonds" (wealthy black South Africans) enrich themselves via often corrupt government tenders. Meanwhile "old money," which still represents the vast majority of the wealth in the country, remains in the hands of a minority of white people. Yet the words and dream of Mandela still ring out in the consciousness of my memories giving me hope that the Rainbow Nation may become a reality and that the incredibly diverse and beautiful, yet troubled, tribes of the nation may live together in harmony without the need to follow the corrupt politicians that seem hell-bent on self-enrichment.
As history keeps being written, many millions of South Africans pray to their respective Gods and spirits to ask for guidance for a brighter future. With the 5th democratic elections beckoning in May 2019 it is likely that the ANC will retain power, but will there be any change in the country's fortunes? Or will South Africa become yet another post-colonial African country incapable of reaching its full potential?