Motlhalefi Mahlabe

Photo by Motlhalefi Mahlabe

The Alexandra or ‘Alex’ township is one of the oldest and most historically relevant townships in South Africa, less than five kilometres away from the wealthy Johannesburg suburb of Sandton. The Jukskei River – not visible in this photo – separates the squatters from new houses. The polluted river is a serious risk to life during heavy rain, when it swells to capacity. Most squatter areas are illegally erected or built on land not demarcated for human settlement.

I took this image in 2000, as part of an assignment on South African housing developments. This was just before RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) housing became popular.

In recent years, local authorities have been removing shack dwellers, only to have them return a few days later to erect new ones. As the 2010 Soccer World Cup approaches, many more shacks are being cleared to make way for new roads and infrastructure.

I am a self-taught photographer. I started taking photos while in high school as a means of selfsupport, and later worked for the Star newspaper as well as being the photo editor of the Citypress newspaper. I am currently a trainer and photo consultant.

Motlhalefi Mahlabe
Majority World

mag cover This article is from the October 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial now »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop