Text: Makgotso Nkosi
Photography: Thabo “Flo” Mokale
The township is a construct of racial segregation, its architecture (squashed and small) already sets a tone designed not to inspire. It has been many years since the advent of a democratic government yet the gaps between predominately white suburbs and townships remain all too evident and the spatial inequalities assembled by the apartheid regime endures. The ANC government is yet to heal the wounds that have aggravated frustrations among the marginalized black majority of this country such as the lack of housing, high unemployment and inadequate policing that contributes to a culture of poverty and violence.
Yet regardless of how bad the township was set out to be and relatively still is, the residents of this place have since tailored these homogeneous spaces. The people of Ekasi have pushed to transform these marginalized settlements into hubs of economical freedom and lovely social spaces, and this is the spirit Thabo Mokale commemorates in his debut solo exhibition A Beautiful Struggle. Varieties of businesses have sprung out of the township, whether run out of someone’s house, shacks and containers, perseverance and creativity surely exists here.
As one of South Africa’s most prolific poets, one can already recognize the beauty of language when looking at his collection of images. The multi-talented artist who was born in Sharpeville and later raised in Katlehong, dubs this work a silent celebration of the daily struggles. The oxymoron consigned for the exhibition is a direct reflection of what the township is, a space set out to be terrible and to destroy its residence yet is still inspires hope and creativity.
Mokale’s ability to use the camera as a weapon to translate reality is laudable. The stylistic aspects of the black and white images look unpolished and that gives a clear revelation of the township life. The exhibition includes an image showing illegal electric wire connection that illustrates the creativity that sparks from struggles. The assemblage of the images portrays vivid details of the daily activities of survival eKasi. The juxtaposition makes the township look like a world within a world, a double life framed by frustration and happiness.
“We are broken but we don’t have to break all the time” is Mokale’s rationalization to why black people of the township have the capacity to remain, to transform, adapt and survive. That is why this duality is worth commemorating, it is proof that only a strong-willed people can co-exist with chaos and still make the chaos beautiful. Mokale believes there is nothing mundane about waking up every day and hustling, selling the same sweets in the same corner and selling to the same people. He thus acknowledges the magic in the routine and insists that is how we grow, by first acknowledging the beauty in where we currently are.
But Mokale insists that’s not all we are. The result of our struggles is beauty.
This poetic conveyence of the township titled A beautiful struggle opens on the 15th of June 2017 at Ezenkeni, 5021 Sophangisa Street,
Motloung Street, Katlehong.