A Photographic Journey Through Apartheid in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa

The Photo Blog
Dec. 10 2013 12:06 PM

A Journey Through Apartheid in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
Protest against Chris Hani’s assassination, 1993. Hani fiercely opposed South Africa's apartheid government.

Jodi Bieber. Copyright Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, a massive volume published earlier this year to accompany the exhibit at the International Center for Photography, is an in-depth examination of photography in South Africa from apartheid’s adoption as official policy in 1948 until 1994, when the election of Nelson Mandela as president ended the country’s system of racial segregation.

In the book’s introduction, curator Okwui Enwezor writes that the pictures in Rise and Fall of Apartheid are not presented as a history of apartheid but instead as an exploration of the specific role photography had in “shaping ... the portrait of the people of South Africa.” The book makes a massive sweep across the role of photography in capturing oppression in South Africa, beginning with the romanticization of "the native" in ethnographic portraiture that directly preceded the era of apartheid. 

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
Crowd near the Drill Hall on the opening day of the Treason Trial, Johannesburg, Dec. 19, 1956. Nelson Mandela and 155 others were arrested in a raid and tried for treason. In 1961, all 156 defendants were found not guilty.

Eli Weinberg/Times Media Collection/Museum Africa, Johannesburg

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
Sharpeville Shooting, March 21, 1960. The police killed 69 unarmed protesters in the black township of Sharpeville after a call for widespread defiance of the oppressive pass laws, which made it illegal for black South Africans to move freely without an identification pass. The killings spurred both a government crackdown on all dissent and a turn toward armed struggle within the protest movement.

Peter Magubane. Copyright International Center of Photography. Gift of Dr. Peter Magubane.

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
More than 5,000 people attended the funeral of 34 of the 69 people massacred by police at Sharpeville on March 21, 1960.

Peter Magubane. Courtesy of Bailey's African History Archive.

Enwezor says the book is also an examination of apartheid as a structure woven into all aspects of daily life, and he presents South Africans as “agents of their own emancipation” rather than solely as victims. The images were almost exclusively produced by South African photographers, some of whom were directly involved in resistance. These include Gille de Vlieg who was an active member of the Black Sash, a white liberal women’s protest group.


Mandela, who died on Thursday after a long illness, was involved early on with apartheid resistance efforts. But because Mandela was arrested in 1962, on trial through 1964, and not released until 1990, pictures of him in the book are few. Also notable: Few photos of the ultra-right-wing supporters of apartheid appear. The focus is instead on daily life under the apartheid system and the struggle that eventually succeeded in overturning it.

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
On Oct. 13, 1958, at the Treason Trial, Moses Kotane (right) and Nelson Mandela leave the Pretoria court, a converted synagogue, beaming with joy as the government had withdrawn the indictment. On Jan. 19, 1959, Mandela and 29 others were put on trial again, then found not guilty two years later.

Jurgen Schadeberg

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
Pauline Moloise (far left) and Winnie Mandela (far right) mourn at the memorial service for Moloise's son Benjamin, who was hanged earlier that morning. Khotso House, Johannesburg, Oct. 18, 1985.

Gille de Vlieg

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela
Jean Sinclair, founding member of the Black Sash, protesting on Jan Smuts Ave., Johannesburg, May 30, 1985. Founded in 1955, the Women’s Defence of the Constitution League, known as the Black Sash, was a nonviolent protest organization whose members used their privileged white status to demonstrate actively against apartheid and its injustices. Their typical protest style, as pictured here, was to stand silently, wearing proper dress and a black sash, and holding graphic signs with various messages, generally written in both English and Afrikaans. Members were often the victims of violence.

Gille de Vlieg

The book also delves into culture of the time, with sections on Drum magazine, a magazine for black readers, in the 1950s; Billy Monk’s photographs of nightclub revelry in Cape Town in the 1960s; and the response of artists to apartheid in the 1970s. These sections work hand-in-hand with pages of photographs documenting protests, riots, and their aftermath, with dead bodies in the street, to present a broad spectrum of life during in South Africa during the apartheid era.

Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life was published this year by Delmonico Books/Prestel and the International Center of Photography to accompany the related exhibition.

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
Outside of a meeting held to call on the apartheid regime to stop harassing Winnie Mandela. Johannesburg Centre, Feb. 14, 1986.

Gille de Vlieg

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
A member of the ultra right-wing group Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging attends a rally with his girlfriend in Pretoria in 1991. The flag has many design elements in common with the swastika; however members of the organization state that the triple-seven component has a biblical reference.

Graeme Williams

The Rise and Fall of Apartheid book, Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela greet supporters as Nelson Mandela is freed from Victor Verster Prison near Paarl in the Cape in 1990. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, many of them on Robben Island.

Graeme Williams



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