Teaching documentary photography to the youth of Kliptown, South Africa

The Kliptown Photo Project is dedicated to creating opportunities for the high school students of Kliptown, South Africa, one of the oldest informal settlements in Soweto, where residents live with up to four generations of their families in one or two room shacks without electricity, running water or public services.

In July 2014 we went to Kliptown and worked with one American photographer and three young African photographers to run a week long photo workshop for 15 students. We believe that learning photography is a way to foster creativity and connection. We wanted our students to show us the world through their eyes and gain skills, confidence, and agency through the process.

We provided digital cameras for each student and worked with them in the classroom, the community, and the computer lab, teaching them everything from lighting and composition to how to photograph strangers and upload their photos to facebook. The students were hard working, enthused, and hungry for knowledge; it was an exciting and powerful week for all participants.

An exhibition of the photographs taken by the students and their teachers took place a month after the workshop at Mashumi Art Projects in Soweto and was a great critical success. The students were able to see their work in the gallery, which was an empowering and thrilling experience for them. Photos are also available for sale on this website.  Proceeds from the exhibition and sale of photographs will go to the Kliptown Youth Program to further their educational and arts programs in the community.

Browse through our store -- you can purchase photos taken by our students and instructors to help sustain the project or you can simply make a donation to sustain the project. 

Ulwimi ululodwa alonelanga, which is a Zulu phrase meaning, "One language is never enough."

This project is focused on one shanty-town or informal settlement in the Kliptown area within the district of Soweto, South Africa. Here, in this informal settlement, residents live in one and two room shacks, sometimes as many as four generations in one living space.

Kliptown is one of the original areas within the 1903 relocation process, at which time the ruling British minority forcibly moved African and Indian mine workers to an area outside of Johannesburg. They were moved to what used to be Klipspruit (‘klipspruit’ translates to ‘rocky river’ in afrikaans). The settlement was nothing more than a squatters camp, with the rocky river running through it.

Apartheid became the law of the land in 1948 and thousands of blacks were forcibly relocated to Soweto (short for South Western Townships), an area which borders Johannesburg’s mining belt. A few dormitory like hostels and some four room settlement houses were built by the government, still there were few basic services. Much of the population lived in what became known as ‘informal settlements’ or shantytowns or shacktowns, including Kliptown.

In 1955 The Congress of the People was held in Kliptown. It was a meeting of multiple political organizations:  the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People’s Congress. Together they drafted the Freedom Charter, which was the first unified anti-apartheid document calling for an equitable, just and non-racial South Africa. Nelson Mandela was present at the Congress -- when the police broke the meeting up on the second day he escaped by pretending to be a milkman.

In 1976, 10,000 students from Soweto marched in protest of Afrikaans being taught and spoken as the official language in the public schools. The police fired on the students, killing 23 people. After the protest the government stopped providing any money for housing.

When apartheid ended in 1992 much of Soweto's population stayed in Soweto, which was by then a district of over one million residents. Since then, electricity has been brought to over 80% of the population, along with water and sewage services. Currently 1.3 million people reside in Soweto. Most still live in the original four room houses built by the government, though many have been expanded and renovated. In the intervening 20 years, more affordable housing has been constructed; Soweto now has museums, commercial areas, and is home to one of the largest soccer stadiums in the country (home of the Kaiser Chiefs). It is still 98.5 % black, and has an unemployment rate of over 70%. (The unemployment rate in the nation as a whole, irrespective of race, is 25%.)

Kliptown itself has seen both major development and neglect. The area where The Congress of the People met in 1955 has been turned into an open air museum and memorial, with shops, a marketplace and a three-star hotel. There have been over 1,000 units of affordable housing built near this site, yet there are also still 11 informal settlements or shantytowns in Kliptown. The settlements are without basic services and struggle with issues of air pollution (from the use of coal as fuel), illegal dumping, and water pollution. The students must leave the settlements to go to school; all residents must leave the settlements to obtain medical services and purchase food and goods.

Kliptown Photo Project is partnering closely with the Kliptown Youth Program