The Hopelessness of Holfontein

It’s taken me a couple of months to write this post.  Maybe in part because I have been struggling to put words to it.

Some 10 years ago I stumbled onto what I thought was an abandoned mine hostel near a shaft head some 50 kilometres outside of Johannesburg. As I entered the compound, I discovered it to be alive with activity, if I recall correctly it was a Sunday.  The community which had taken over the hostel was one that needed to find a home, safety and security whilst the promise of the new political dispensation would see the end of these “ad-hoc” settlements.  In contrast to some other shack-based communities, Holfontein at least had the old mining hostels to inhabit.  Despite there being no electricity, running water and a community “long-drop”, there was a sense of pride and hope in the community.  People, despite their living conditions, appeared happy in the sense of perhaps knowing that this was their last stop before an RDP house was their own.  The community welcomed me into their midst and at no one point did I feel threatened or if I was intruding.  I left that day with a sense of hope, and a sequence of photos that I called the “The Hope of Holfontein”.

Jump 10 years. In March this year (2012), I decided to revisit Holfontein.  I didn’t quite know what to expect.  A part of me wanted me to see some of the people I had originally photographed, what had become of them, what happened to the kids – did the Dream of the Rainbow Nation impact on their lives?  Another part was hoping that I wouldn’t find Holfontein, that the road I used to get there would have become overgrown and lost from sight forever. How wrong I was… From the highway, the same old squat facebrick buildings could still be seen.  The same road leading to Holfontein was still there.  I felt the piercing stares of hidden eyes as a group of men scrambled into the bush as I approached.  Soon there was has a plethora of people around my car and I must honestly say – I felt nervous.  Aggressive, drunk and stoned adults wanted to know what I was doing there, what I wanted.  I didn’t think it was the right time to take out my camera.  I had the presence of mind to make a large print of the photos I took on my first visit and grabbed that from my back seat – and holding it up I tried to explain over the ‘aggro’ what I was doing intruding into their lives. Thankfully, one of the women, Paulina, took control of the situation and explained to the community why I was there.  The aggression relented and they allowed me to do what I went there for – to answer my own questions. I left Holfontein that afternoon, filled now with a sense of Hopelessness.

In 10 years the community had been replaced by many others who could not remember anyone who was in the original essay.  In 10 years time, I expect Holfontein to still exist, communities would have recycled through the hostels, more aggressive, more disillusioned… surely The Hopelessness of Holfontein.

Pride HolfonteinPride 2002 Untitled 2002 Untitled 2002 Untitled 2002
Untitled 2002 Spirit 2002
HammeredHammered 2012 Bed of Love 2012 Untitled 2012 eye can't see the futureEye Can’t See the Future 2012
Untitled 2012 Mans Best Friend 2012 Bed of Rock 2012  Untitled 2012