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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CAPE TOWN FRINGE (article first published : 2004-12-30)

Cape Town is always touted as South Africa’s major beauty spot. Amid the promotional hype, references may be made to areas which are considerably downmarket, gang-controlled, violent, dangerous or downright ugly but these are often hailed as legacies of The Struggle. So states award-winning photographer David Lurie who asserts through his latest publication, Cape Town Fringe, that there is no glossy packaging you can wrap around stark unemployment, appalling living conditions and extreme poverty.

The subtitle is Manenberg Avenue is where it’s happening, referring to the well-known jazz composition by Abdullah Abraham (formerly Dollar Brand). Visitors to Cape Town may be familiar with his music but probably wouldn’t even notice the Manenberg signboard on the way to or from the airport or make the connection.

David Lurie started work on Cape Town Fringe at the end of 2001, intending it to be a follow-up to his Life in the Liberated Zone. He ended up spending a total of about six months “over the next one and a half years hanging out, photographing in and around Manenberg Avenue.” In that period at least 12 people he’d been photographing died violently or were critically injured. “It will probably get worse before it gets any better,” he says.

He reminds us that the planning and settlement of places like Manenberg predate the excesses of apartheid and the first forced removal of black inhabitants of the city took place as long ago as 1902. When Manenberg and Bonteheuwel were established in the early 1960’s, social and economic problems multiplied and violence and crime became part of the Cape Flats. Former gang member Rashied Staggie was interviewed for Cape Town Fringe and he describes the area as a “concentration camp”, saying: “What happened here is still from the old government.”

David Lurie has taken some outstanding photographs and the book is a brilliant pictorial record of an area steeped in social problems. Aggression, fear, despair, drugs, tattoos, drink and weaponry dominate. The raised shirt of a cyclist reveals a pistol on the belt of his Levis, a young girl watches her mother drinking with trepidation, young women drink themselves into oblivion … but there’s also much laughter amid occasional moments of tenderness. A group of teenagers enjoy the application of lip gloss; children amuse themselves in a shambles of a playground. Young boys become men before their time. It’s called survival.

The influence of religion is a good leveller, and David Lurie shows people at prayer and or those living peacefully in homes displaying religious icons.

It’s the images of the children that tell the strongest story. Small boys play on a toy scooter, another two with a bicycle. Ordinary child behaviour – but look behind to the surroundings of dilapidated buildings, dirty streets and listless onlookers. A little girl is hustled away from a group of men who are smoking and drinking, another plays hopscotch on a deserted dirty pavement. A toddler helps her mother clean their humble home.

The postscript tells of a 10 year-old boy caught in a gang crossfire while playing in a front garden. The most telling remark comes from a young gangster who goes about his business just “the same as it is on films”! – people shooting each other as a normal course of events.

Cape Town Fringe; Manenberg Avenue is where it’s happening is visually superb. However, it’s not a feel-good production but a determined dig at social conscience and a stark reminder that the achievement of a better level of equality in greater Cape Town as well as the rest of South Africa still has a long way to go. It’s a “must-read”. Published by Double Storey, it retails at R250. – Caroline Smart




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