Mdantsane is a unique, vibrating, eclectic, African place. Follow us on a pilgrimage to Mdantsane to discover the street culture, fashion, food, people, music, homes, taverns, humor, businesses, history and what's hot in the second biggest township in South-Africa, located close to the city of East London in the Province of the Eastern Cape. Join us on this journey while we capture the spirit of this amazing place for you in the here and in the now. We are going to introduce you to many individuals, artists, musicians, groups and associations.
They are the HEROES OF DAILY LIFE. They are the people who create, innovate and improve their life and their stories deserve to be told. This is a place for only good and positive stories of humanity, that will send out a message of courage, endurance and strength to the world through their pictures and words.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Heroes Of Daily Life - In Memory Of The Painter Helmut Goettl

Card board collector in East London - One of the millions of " Heroes Of Daily Life" that roam this earth

When working on a project like The Mdantsane Way, which is a project that tells stories to the world about the private life of people, it is essentital to try to be as true possible as you can to the people, who have agreed to share their life and their stories with you.

But you always bring a part of yourself into it and you have to be true to yourself as well.  
When I first used the term "The Heroes of Daily Life ", I have been asked, where did I get the idea from. Why would I call the people we wrote about heroes. I got it from my own life and my own childhood.
My father had a friend. A "life-long" best friend, whose name was Helmut. He was a painter. The friendship between the two men, who had met when they were students, lasted as long as it was possible - until one of them reached the end his life. My father's friend died about a year ago. 

Both men were born as artists but only one of them followed his calling and the sacrifice, that came with it. It was not my father. 

A real talent is a curse, because you have to do what you feel inside that you must do. You can not escape the urge to create and at times your talent and your work might stay completely unrecognized (in the worst case during your entire life), and non-appreciated, lead you to great poverty and misery. And worse, make you drag your family and the ones you love into the misery you have created for yourself.
Why am I saying this? Because to be an artist means to be poor. Until the moment comes... oh yes the moment all talented people dream about. The moment of discovery.
The moment, so eagerly awaited, when somebody looks at your work and says: That is good, I am ready to invest in it.
My father's friend painted his whole life. He sacrificed everything else for his great talent, that today after many years is undisputed. When young, he did not eat many a day to buy oil paint. Neither did his family eat.

He walked the long and hard walk of an artist, who does not want to compromise. The question was not: did he believe in himself but rather did he have to paint ? He had to paint!
Belief was not the question!
There was no way he could not follow his the inner voice. Today his paintings are collected by art lovers all over the world. What he painted were the Heroes of Daily Life.
His paintings depict society and reality brutally, without any glorification. 
It was him who created the term "The Heroes of Daily Life " . 

The Heroes of Daily Life are the millions of people, who fight and fight, and do simply not stop battling for a better and more affluent life. They might not be considered beautiful or important by the ones who are rule makers. But they are the true actors in the theatre of life. They are in Mdantsane. They are on the African continent.
They are in every society and in every land. They are of a great number. They make a choice not to kill you for your sunglasses, stab you for your handbag, or hijack cars.
They make the choice to collect dirty card boad instead or to recycle your trash.
They are more than the "Salt of the Earth" or what is commonly called the working class. They are the true Heroes of Daily Life playing their role in the theater of life. Facing poverty and a lack of everything, they have still chosen an honest fight. And this makes them true and genuine heroes. You might be one of them.

This post was written in memory of Helmut Goettl, a great inspiration in the theatre of life.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Walk Gentle

I read a twitter comment that somebody had made the other day. 
" Coming home to Mdantsane for holidays is like going on vacation to Afghanistan. "
Mdantsane still lacks the most basic entertainment facilities after 16  years of independence. There is not one cinema in the township ( the population of Mdantsane is estimated to be over a million people). There are hardly any pubs, bars or restaurants, apart from the usual shebeens. From a point of view of entertainment facilities the township has not much to offer. You have to be in your house in the evening because of the high crime rate.

But one thing that distinguishes this township from many other big townships is the pristine and beautiful environment. The beaches are close and easy to reach. There are miles of unspoilt coastline.

Christmas time is beach time. You go to the beach with your familiy and friends.
Have a braai ( barbecue), just linger, have drinks, talk and relax..The Christmas season in South Africa is like a prolonged national holiday and many companies and firms close around the 15th of December.

Just spoil yourself and if you can get forget your sorrows over money, love, the lack of things you need and don't have for a couple of days. They'll come back to you as soon as you let them. And they are willing to stay with your for another year. SO let go for now !

Go for a walk with your daughter.

And just walk gentle.

Rest And Play

There is a time to rest and a time to play, so I was told. The inhabitants of house 4837 can do both.
This is a typical Mdantsane scene. People love their houses and whenever a possibility presents itself and the necessary means with it, houses, shacks and even containers are improved and beautified. The walls of this house have been painted in a beautiful pink. The love of color in Mdantsane is refreshing and gives the whole township an artistic touch.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Last Sheep

While the last sheep waits more or less patiently on Hi-Way market that his fate will be determined, a group of young men are engaged in a board game and some intense conversation on on the other side.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Looking Back, The Transkei Elections 1963

It is estimated that more than 50 % of  the inhabitants of the Mdantsane township today are under the age of 18 years.
The images shown here were taken 48 years ago in 1963 during the Transkei elections. The Transkei was the first of the ' Bantustans States " set aside for Africans by the South African Apartheid Government. The Bantustan were supposedly self-governing but they were in reality controlled by Whites.

Waiting To Vote

Transkei women dressed in the traditional Xhosa costume are waiting outside a polling station during the Transkei Elections in 1963. More than two thirds of the Transkei electorate voted, despite Apartheid Government restrictions at the time on political rallies and meetings.  

Showing The Passbooks
African votes register for the Transkei elections in 1963.
(Pictures are from Time Life Library, South Africa, 1963)

To Pray, Celebrate And Sing Together

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mdantsane - A Way of Life

Car Wash on the weekend overlooking beautiful NU 5

The material for the book " The Mdantsane Way " has been collected for over five years by now, and my archive of photos and stories is still growing. The Mdantsane Way has evolved and become a project. The first version of this book will be released in January as an e-book. We have decided to publish it as an e-book as well because e-books are taking the whole world by storm. The book will be cheaper to aquire and this puts more people in a position to have access to it. There will be a hardcover version as well. 

We have named the book " The Mdantsane Way " because most of all Mdantsane stands for a certain way of life. It is the second biggest township in South Africa but foremost it represents a life-style. A lifestyle that embodies community spirit, African vibrancy and energy, uniqueness, creativity and a whole lot of humor. If you live in Mdantsane you do it the Mdantsane Way. 

It was our objective to capture and to show you as many scenes of daily life and street life of this township as possible. I can say today this has not been done before ever. Not for Mdantsane. There is very little photographic material about Mdantsane available. Nobody has taken as many pictures and collected as many stories as we did. What started in my head as an art project became a journey with consequences. I infected my friends with this idea and we could not let go of it since then. And we feel a little proud of it.

This blog was created for you, the people in Mdantsane who have helped us pushing it through. 
The stories, the faces, the photos we were allowed to take, the fun and the new things we have seen and learned are worth a trillion.
I hope you see your face here on this blog sooner or later. And it is for all the others as well that have taken an interest in it. I can say there are many who know Mdantsane by now a little bit through our stories and pictures. 
If you want to use and upload the pictures that you see here and on our facebook and twitter pages-you can. Spread them, show them around, add them to your photos. That is why they were taken. Just mention our name so that we get seen and heard more.
This will enable us may be to get more support for the online magazine and the movie we have started working on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Everything Under Control On Hi-Way !

There is no other way to say this, but the "Orange Dude" is an institution in Mdantsane.
Hope he forgives me for calling him like that.  But whenever I come to Mdantsane he is there, around Hi-way in front of an orange mountain counting the money in his plastic bag.  He is there, was there and should never leave. I give him dozens of likes if he ever sets up a fan page.

And there is no way that his picture could not crown a page in our book.

Coming Home

The best thing is to come home before the day ends.

Close to the taxi rank, one evening before the sun went down.

If you have been to Mdantsane you can feel the atmosphere in these pictures. Mellow ! All good !

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Garden Of The Good Samaritan

The members of the group with their certificates

I do not want to become too developmental, too political or too socially critical with this blog. In fact I do not believe in the supremacy of Western knowledge or expertise. It is sometimes even impossible to transfer or apply this knowledge to an African context, even though the good-will is there on both sides. I do believe that Africa has to find completely new solutions for it's problems. And they have to be found by Africans.

But some projects just work out fine somtimes, even if it is only for a certain time, and some things are too good to forget because they can serve to encourage others. The images that you are seeing here were still shot on film. 

In 2004 a group of people, who were interested in gardening, received a formal training in how to establish  and run a permaculture garden. Additionally the necessary equipment for this project was donated. The training and the equipment were founded by an international donor organisation.The garden was started on the ground of the Good Samaritan Child and Youth Care Center in NU 3. I have written another article about the Good Samaritan a couple of months back. 

This is how it began. The images were taken over a period of several months. At the time all the different aspects of permaculture farming, for example how to make and use organic fertilizer, the knowledge of plants that are complementary to each other, were taught by Earth Innovations, a one man consultancy from the Eastern Cape.

Rain water was collected from the roof and mulch was laid out in between the vegetable plants. 

And this is how well they did! 
The vegetables were used in the kitchen of the Good Samaritan Child and Youth Care Center, to improve the meals for the children and a certain quantity could be sold as well. I have visited the garden recently and it is still functional. It is not run by the same people, which I think should never be the objective because people have to evolve and move on and cannot be bound to one project , but vegetables are produced. It is also an example how well Mdantsane can do !

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Street Life

I got not much to say tonight.

It's not always necessary to talk. Right ?

But I am sending some idyllic Mdantsane Street life scenes in your direction

Life is on the streets

and that is great

just the right thing for a grey Sunday afternoon

to close the week end off

Take care and see you soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Evangelical Lutheran Church

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mdantsane

Where there is great poverty, there is a great number of churches offering salvation.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fan Of Siya

Africa is the continent of Soccer.
Soccer is a uniting force. 
It's a peace maker ( in the true sense) and a crime fighter.

Siyabonga Eugene Nomvethe, born 2 December 1977,  is a South African soccer player who has played in several European leagues, and now represents Moroka Swallows in the Premier Soccer League. If I am wrong, please do correct me !
And here is his fan in Mdantsane. One of many.

Commando Brandy

The leader of Commando Brandy !
The Commanding Officer.
The General !

Thursday, December 8, 2011

With Eyes Wide Open

With your eyes wide open you will see !


Close to the Sisa Dukashe stadium in NU 1 is a grey concrete wall, fenced and spiked on top, serving as the ideal location for all sorts of advertisements. You can see this wall to your right when you drive down Shai road in direction to the high way.

The wall does not only display advertisements but also the handpainted pastel murals that you can see in the pictures. The colors are faded which makes them even more attractive giving them a small ressemblance with old fresco drawings in churches in Italy that have endured thousands of years. 
These African murals are very beautiful. Beauty of course is in the eye of the beholder. But to me they are beautiful.

They seem to portray typical village scenes. Adolescent boys playing a board game while sharing a coke. The glass coke bottle is drawn in a naive but accurately charming way. You know immediately it's a glass coke bottle.
Other scenes show older men sitting in front of their houses, chatting, ( chatting like in the old days, namely face to face) and smoking a pipe. And I guess the scene on the right with the dog and the men in traditional clothing shows an initiation school.

Then there are women in front of houses attending to a garden and a farmer leaving with his donkey cart. It is probably not Mdantsane that is shown here. 
Who made them? Who is the artist? I don't know. Many advertisements in the township are signed by their creator but here I could not find a name or a phone number. The paint is washed off in many places but these murals are large and very impressive. You can just walk along them and move from one scene to the next.

I was busy studying them when these two ladies spotted me and developed a keen interest in my photographic ambitions. 

It has to be mentioned that they had already downed a considerbale amount of happy making spirit. So, it became nearly impossible to look for a name and instead I became the object of their undivided attention and had to take photos of them. Nope, not shown here ! They wouldn't like it ! Only the back.
But hey, it was Mandela Day and that is a true reason to celebrate.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mdantsane Ghost Town

Mdantsane Resembles a Ghost Town and Still Lacks Amenities

For many Mdanstane residents, March 4 1990, remains one of the most memorable days in the history of this township, when the homeland of Ciskei under the leadership of Dr Lennox Sebe, fell into the hands of one of his senior soldiers, Brigadier Joshua Oupa Gqozo in a military coup. 
Mayhem erupted after the announcement of the coup, when residents destroyed everything that represented Sebe's regime, and thus leaving the township in ruins.
When you drive around Mdantsane you can not help but notice many dilapidated buildings, which are a strong reminder of this ugly past, when the township went up in smoke as offices and businesses alike were destroyed. 

Nofikle complex in NU 1 used to be a bottle store and a butchery with living quarters above

What was supposed to be a celebration of the end to an era - the apartheid homeland system under which Mdantsane fell, turned into chaos.
These were exciting times for South African politics, as Nelson Mandela had also just been released from prison less than a month to that day.

These eye-saw buildings are almost everywhere, bearing the scars of that fateful day as many of these buildings are still in the same state of that aftermath, derelict and casting a folorn picture of this once vibrant township with great potential. 

The Xoilisani butchery in the far left corner in NU 14 used to be a butchery but is now a Spaza shop run by Somalian Nationals 
Having mentioned that, however, there is a glimmer of hope as some of the buildings have since been renovated. The downside is the fact that the township still lacks basic amenities like cinemas, small business centres, old age homes, youth centres, swimming pools etc. 

Mushrooming around the township are instead church denominations, which seems to be invading almost every avaliable building as a result of breakaway fractions, branching out to different premises. 

The building used to be the Embo butchery but is now used by a church
Also spaza shops, mostly run by foreigners nationals like the Somalians are found everywhere.
Some however have seen the need to promote a healthy lifestyle in the township by turning some of these buildings into gymnasiums, which is also a positive way to develop the youth and keep them away from the streets.

This is a building in N U 11 which has been turned into a boxing academy and gym

Story and Pictures by Siyanda Nkonyeni


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