township energy!


A boy jumps joyfully next to a woman selling chicken feet and entrails in a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am currently in South Africa working on a story about CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare), an organization that provides veterinary services for the most impoverished shantytowns and townships around Johannesburg.

Despite having the largest economy in Africa, many of the people who live in these areas have no running water, electricity or plumbing. I can’t really describe how many mind-blowing and painful moments I’ve had in the past few days, seeing how people struggle to maintain their dignity in almost impossible circumstances. Ironically, in the context of all of this, there is an extraordinary vitality that seems to pervade. The energy is palpable, especially in the early evenings when the weather is cooler and everyone seems to come out to play, talk, sing, pray, bet on an illegal chinese lotto game, sell street food, do errands or just hang out with friends.

Yesterday, at the very end of the day, I went with Cora, CLAW’s primary organizer, to pick up a sick dog. As we waited in a central area for someone to bring us the dog, I watched a spontaneous soccer game spring up in this small yard behind a barbed wire wire fence. Soccer is played everywhere in Africa. I watched many games played on the beach at sunset in Zanzibar until the players couldn’t see the ball anymore. Here, when kids don’t have a soccer ball, they play with a ball made out of plastic bags wadded up around a small rock.

I saw women selling chicken feet and entrails, another selling mealies (corn) cooked on a portable fire. I watched as two tiny girls tried to get a peek inside a window. One lifted the other up, almost dropping her on numerous occasions. The light was exquisite and everywhere there were long and massive shadows, almost as if people were being followed by stealthy giants. At one point, as I was photographing something else, I saw a boy running nearby. He suddenly jumped wildly, joyfully and I was so thrilled to have caught it on camera.

Later, as we headed back, we saw a small tent set up on the side of the road. We found out it was a revival and so we stopped and listened for a while as people danced and sang their hearts out–beautiful, strong voices. A few minutes later, Cora pointed to a group of people gathering in the dusky light for outdoor church services. I thought to myself that there is something very universal about this–people engaging in life, trying to make it meaningful no matter what the circumstances they find themselves in. Below are some of the images that came out of last night’s shoot.

Boys play soccer in a small yard behind a barbed wire fence.

A man paints an advertisement on the wall of a “tuck shop” (South African version of a snack shop) while another walks by.

This boy seemed so pensive in the midst of all the energy and chaos.

Two little girls try to get a peek inside a window.

I loved this woman’s strange and massive shadow–like a stealthy giant following her.

A boy brings a sick dog to Cora who was waiting to take it back to the clinic. CLAW treats animals in some of the poorest areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg where vet access is non-existent.

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2 Replies to “township energy!”

  1. i have experienced the same thing in other poor countries i have visited. the communities come alive in the evenings. work is done and it is friend and family time. there is no technology (television, computers, i phones) to distract the people and they rejoice in the simple things. there is a lot to learn from this.

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