In 1994 I made it to South Africa for the first time. I went partly as a photo-journalist to cover the country’s first free & multi-racial elections and the expected victory of Nelson Mandela becoming president. But also just because I wanted to be there to witness it, to feel it, to enjoy it - I HAD to be there. I didn’t even bother trying to get an assignment for a magazine or try to get sponsored, not only would there be enough ‘staffers’ out there to make that difficult as a freelance but all that was secondary. Yes, as I was a photographer I would take pictures but after being a long-time member of London Anti-Apartheid, miles of marching, years of boycotting, hours of vigil o/s South Afrika house, all resulting in quite a few fisticuffs with Thatcher’s police bullies - this was a party that I just wasn’t going to miss. It was unsure of course at that stage whether it’d all turn out rosy or end up in one horrendous civil war from which blood would flow for as many years as there’d been apartheid. But that was no reason not to go, and in deference to the fearless Bang-Bang club, who I went side-by-side with on the East Rand, this is the story of my time there. And as it turned out to be the most life-affirming and joyous trip I’ve ever made (some ‘lively’ moments aside), I feel privileged to be able to show you a time I’ll never forget as long as I live. I hope my pictures at the very least give a small taste of how incredibly amazing that time was and what it meant to the people there to do what most of us take for granted, and what so many of us so criminally waste, to simply queue up and vote. Seeing democracy and freedom burst into life before my very eyes makes me tingle even now just thinking about it. In April this year it’ll be the 20th anniversary of that momentus occasion in history and with the world seemingly in perpetual turmoil, just as good a time as any of reminding ourselves a little of what’s right, and what’s wrong.
Oh and I met the great man himself as well, but more about that later…
Below is from 2 rolls of black & white film from my first day there, just a preview of the exhibition to come. I hope it will move you. Never forget, people CAN have the power, and here’s the proof. Amandla.
Grant Fleming. January 2014