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June 14, 2010

South Africa: A Study in Contrasts

James Nachtwey
James Nachtwey

With so many eyes on the soccer matches in South Africa, it’s easy to either stereotype or simply ignore the World Cup host beyond the pitch.  (This racist slideshow at Spiegel, griping about the vuvuzela, is a good example of the former.)

What James Nachtwey and the editors at National Geographic seek to convey is the diversity of the county in a single slideshow.  If you inspect the background, what is particularly ironic about the photo above, of a girl in the Kliptown neighborhood of Soweto, is the 2009 election poster of President Zuma affixed to the wall.

As the images progress from more to less impoverished, however, it’s interesting to compare this much different image of children in Alexandra township.

The caption:

Once a rarity for black children, ballet classes are now a treat three times a week in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, thanks to an outreach program of the South African Ballet Theatre. Before apartheid ended in 1994, “a whole generation was denied access to classical ballet,” says Samantha Saevitzon, a company spokeswoman. Now a new generation has the opportunity to prepare for careers in dance.

Now, go back and look at the girl with the apple in the first image, and the way she is standing.

Slideshow: Mandela’s Children.

  • Thirdeye Pushpin

    the arts as an insidious enabler of capitalism…ballet has always reinforced class dynamics

    • yg

      how so?

  • SDMichael

    I am a lifelong football (soccer) fan and part of what attracted me to the professional level of the sport is the working class roots — it’s a game that has become popular throughout the globe because it’s a great democratizer. No expensive equipment or special venue is needed to kick a ball-shaped object around, with shoes or tin cans set up as goal posts, and there’s no need to be a 300 pound or 7-foot-tall genetic specimen in order to excel — the beautiful game can be played anywhere by anyone.

    So I am quite saddened by the way FIFA has corporatized the game; it is now big news when a pro club [em]doesn’t[/em] have a corporate sponsor logo emblazoned on their jersey. Television revenue has become the sine qua non of football success.

  • Stella

    Thank you for posting these photos. I can’t see the arts (especially dance) as insidious. Ballet teaches that with individual discipline and work it is possible for a dance company to produce beauty together, without competition. Some of us would rather watch Swan Lake than the World Cup.

  • C

    Really? A “racist slideshow”? Have you actually tried to watch – and *listen!* to – any of the games?

    • Michael Shaw

      Yes, I have. But that’s not the point. If you read the captions, you’ll see that there is a cultural attack in play.

      And then, what is so lethal about turning down the sound?

    • yg

      michael, while i don’t dismiss your assertion re the spiegal slideshow (i picked up on it too after you pointed it out) but i’m told by somebody who used to live in germany that you can get a ticket for honking your car horn. i’m guessing they also have a cultural sensitivity to noise.

  • David

    Nice detail.

    Has anyone been able to find Nachtwey’s original essay from South Africa online anywhere?

    The allusions to that (‘93?) essay are pretty obvious, I remember it was the first photo essay I really looked at as a kid and I misunderstood almost every image.

  • yg

    what worried me is the beauty of the portrait (the girl, the water, the colors, the composition) romanticized poverty.

    i wondered why isn’t mandela denouncing this poverty. turns out he endorsed and instituted neoliberal policies that ensured these kinds of conditions. truly, these are mandela’s children, people living in squalor is his legacy.

  • Molly

    “…ballet classes are now a treat….”

    Here, kiddie, kiddie, kiddie! Come get your treats! Good kiddie….

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