In May 1990 Ad van Denderen travelled to South Africa to document the nearing end of the racial segregation of apartheid. The subject brought Van Denderen to Welkom, a small miners town located in the Free State. At the time, this city was front-page news: the growing tension between the white and the black community often lead to unrest, violence, even murders. Welkom became the example of how it can go wrong during the changing process.
The story Van Denderen captured with his camera was published in 1992 in the photobook Welkom in Suid-Afrika. His series depicted the two sides of the town. On the one hand there were well-organised white families who lead a rather uniform lifestyle: go to school, work in the mines, buy a house and drive around in a Toyota Corolla. He joined them as they went to work, had dinner, visited the church or learned how to shoot at Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (AWB) self-defence camps. On the other hand, Van Denderen’s images displayed the lives of the black community. They were not allowed to live on the tidy streets of Welkom, but crammed into the nearby, chaotic township, Thabong. Here most people were poor and unemployment was high. The schools had limited facilities, overcrowded classrooms and often unqualified staff. The future of these pupils seemed hopeless. The community was struggling but remained optimistic because they foresaw an ideal: black empowerment in South Africa.
Early 2016 Van Denderen received a surprising request. Lebohang Tlali, who was born in Thabong in 1978, had discovered the photobook in 1999 during his studies at the Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town. Thanks to the support of a high school teacher who foresaw Tlali’s creative talent, he managed to make his way out of the township. Welkom in Suid-Africa showed him for the first time how the white community lived during apartheid. Simultaneously the book gave a feeling of recognition, for himself and for the people living in Thabong. Van Denderen’s project was a life-changer for Tlali. The realisation of the power of photography as a tool to create social awareness directed his life. After working for several years as a freelance photographer, and later project manager for cultural non-profits and galleries, in 2014 Tlali decided to move to Switzerland to start a three-year course. At KaosPilot, an alternative business school that specialises in value based entrepreneurship and creative social innovation, he specialises in in youth empowerment. His projects use art to make a positive impact on the community and their environment.
In 2017 it will be twenty-five years since Welkom in Suid-Afrika was published. A lot has changed in South-Africa: cities are multicultural, education improved and the Black Economic Empowerment Programme makes sure that black South-Africans are also able to vacate high profile positions. Unfortunately not all the optimism that accompanied the end of apartheid came to a stance. Many people are disappointed and frustrated due to the stagnant economy and political corruption problems. For the first time since the democratic national election in 1994, the ANC, which has been running the country since the beginning of the post-apartheid era, is losing votes. These troubles can be felt in Welkom as well. The last decennia a lot of mines have closed. More than half of the inhabitants are unable to find work.
Van Denderen’s photographs form an important part of the history of South-Africa and Welkom/Thabong in particular. Not only would it be special to bring these works for the first time back to their origin, this is just the beginning. Welkom Back will bring life to the static middle town. An interactive education programme with three schools from different neighbourhoods will colour the post-apartheid period from inside out. With Van Denderen’s images and Tlali as a guide, students and their families will re-visit the past and think about the future. The resulting collection of works will be presented in a multi-vocal exhibition and book in 2019, celebrating twenty-five years after the abolishment of apartheid. In addition, the idea of a documentary, with Tlali taking the lead role, is currently being investigated.
In 1990 journalist Margalith Kleijwegt joined Ad van Denderen during his journey to document the nearing end of Apartheid in Welkom, South Africa. The resulting article was included in the photobook Welkom in Suid-Afrika and an extended text was published in Vrij Nederland.
For Welkom Today Kleijwegt returns South-Africa. Her observations about the changes in Welkom during the last two decennia, as well as her impressions of the moments that happen behind-the-scenes of the project, can be followed the blog.
In 1991, Remmelt Lukkien visited Ad van Denderen at his home to speak to him about his Welkom project.
Welkom in South-Africa revisited: new project by Ad van Denderen and Lebohang Tlali14 February 2017
Welcome back, back to Welkom. Photographer Ad van Denderen is returning to the middle town of Welkom (South-Africa). A town he photographed 25 years ago to document the nearing end of the racial segregation of apartheid. It led to his first photo book Welkom in Suid-Afrika. Together with photographer/entrepeneur Lebohang Tlali, Paradox project manager Heleen Peeters, filmmaker...Read more