Neo Ntsoma

Photo: Neo Ntsoma

This picture is part of my self-initiated project SA Youth ID – Kwaito Culture, a personal and reflective body of work about the changes in the lives of South Africans in the new democratic country. The word Kwaito is derived from the Afrikaans kwaai – ‘angry’. In colloquial slang, negative words or phrases often acquire a positive connotation or ‘cool’ status. The language of Kwaito is Isicamtho, South African township slang.

While working on the project it became clear to me that the youth of South Africa refuse to be condemned by the politics of the past (apartheid) but choose to find their own identity. They have been developing one which is truly and proudly South African – Kwaito culture. It’s about peace, love and unity; about being yourself and loving yourself enough to be YOU.

I am a 31-year-old female photographer. I did my photography studies in Cape Town and Pretoria. I then freelanced in Mmabatho, my hometown, before moving to Johannesburg. My original interest was in film and television. But I could not pursue my dream because of the political situation in South Africa at the time. In 2000 I joined The Star newspaper. I later spent a year teaching at Pathshala South Institute of Photo-graphy in Bangladesh.

I have always been inspired to change the gender imbalance in photography. My recent achievement – the first woman CNN Africa Photographer of the Year – has motivated me to devote my time to this even more, popularizing the profession among other women and ploughing back the knowledge I have gained by making a difference in the lives of others. I continue to work at The Star, specializing in news, fashion and theatre photography.

Neo Ntsoma, South Africa. By arrangement with Drik Picture Library Ltd

Neo Ntsoma

I grew up in Mmabatho, a small town about 350 kilometres from Johannesburg. My original interest was in film and television. Due to the race restrictions at the time, I could not reach my wish. So I applied to study photography instead, mainly because it was offered in several institutions, some of which were not in support of the apartheid system. When I began my course in Cape Town in 1992 I did not know that memories from my childhood would return with such clarity. It felt like I had a calling to make the past live forever in real images. I was also inspired to make a change to the gender imbalance in my country. There were few black female photographers — less than 10. It was not very safe for any photographer, regardless of gender and race. It was a criminal offence to be found in possession of photographic images that carried any political message. Many media workers were regularly locked up, while others went into exile. As a result, my generation was left without any role models. Now I am prepared to devote my time and energy to popularizing the profession among other women, especially those who lack self-esteem, and to plough back the knowledge I have gained by making a difference in someone’s life.

*Neo Ntsoma* works for the South African daily newspaper, _The Star_.

Drik Picture Library Ltd