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.

Authors

Ad van Denderen (1943, The Netherlands) has worked as a photographer for Vrij NederlandStern, NRC Handelsblad, GEO and The Independent magazine, among others. He has received a number of prestigious prizes for his work, including the Visa d’Or at the international photo festival Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan in 2001 and The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts’ (Fonds BKVB) oeuvre prize in 2007/2008. Go No Go, his book on migration in Europe, based on 13 years of work, was published by Actes Sud, Mets & Schilt, Lunwerg Editores, Edition Braus and Paradox in 2003. For the 2008 SteidlMack/Paradox publication So Blue So Blue, Van Denderen photographed the 17 countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier publications include Peace in The Holy Land, a book about Palestine (1997) andWelkom in Suid-Afrika, about apartheid (1991). Ad van Denderen is a member of VU agency, Paris.

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Lebohang Tlali (b. 1978, South Africa) is a photographer and cultural entrepreneur born in Welkom. After his Fine Art studies at the Michaelis School of Art (University of Cape Town) he worked as a freelance photographer and gained experience as a project manager for art galleries such as Stevenson, Park West and cultural non-profits among which Cape Africa Platform and VANSA (Visual Arts Network of South Africa). While growing up during apartheid in the township of Thabong, Tlali developed a strong appreciation for the value of education. It inspired him to become a graduate from Kaospilots, an alternative business school that specialises in value based entrepreneurship and creative social innovation in Switzerland. His projects focus on youth empowerment and use of photography as a tool to make a positive impact on the community and their environment.

Platforms

Book cover Welkom in Suid-Afrika
Book cover Welkom in Suid-Afrika
© Ad van Denderen
Acclimatization-room. New miners are tested whether they can stand the underground heat or not, Welkom, South Africa, 1990
Acclimatization-room. New miners are tested whether they can stand the underground heat or not, Welkom, South Africa, 1990
© Ad van Denderen
Afrikaner grammar school, Welkom, South-Africa, 1990
Afrikaner grammar school, Welkom, South-Africa, 1990
© Ad van Denderen
The maid of Blikkies Blignout, leader of AWB in Welkom, South Africa, 1990
The maid of Blikkies Blignout, leader of AWB in Welkom, South Africa, 1990
© Ad Van Denderen
Horse show, Welkom, South-Africa, 1990
Horse show, Welkom, South-Africa, 1990
© Ad van Denderen
Thabong, South Africa, 1990
Thabong, South Africa, 1990
© Ad van Denderen
Graffiti in Steyn-mines, Welkom, South-Africa, 1990
Graffiti in Steyn-mines, Welkom, South-Africa, 1990
© Ad van Denderen
 Nkoane Road, Thabong, South-Africa, ca. 2002
Nkoane Road, Thabong, South-Africa, ca. 2002
© Lebohang Tlali
Childeren playing on the streets of Thabong, South-Africa, ca. 1999
Childeren playing on the streets of Thabong, South-Africa, ca. 1999
© Lebohang Tlali
Playing with Fire, awareness photostory project
Playing with Fire, awareness photostory project
© Lebohang Tlali
Playing with Fire, awareness photostory project
Playing with Fire, awareness photostory project
© Lebohang Tlali
Portrait of a black law student at University of Cape Town, 1999
Portrait of a black law student at University of Cape Town, 1999
© Lebohang Tlali
Birthday at Tlali's home in Thabong, ca. 1980
Birthday at Tlali's home in Thabong, ca. 1980
© Lebohang Tlali
Siblings, Thabong, South-Africa, ca. 1980
Siblings, Thabong, South-Africa, ca. 1980
© Lebohang Tlali
Screen shot from the blog Welkom Today
Screen shot from the blog Welkom Today
Screen shot from the blog Welkom Today
Screen shot from the blog Welkom Today
Screen shot from the blog Welkom Today
Screen shot from the blog Welkom Today

Blog

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.

 

Ad van Denderen and Lebo Tlali giving their first workshop to the students of Welkom.
Ad van Denderen and Lebo Tlali giving their first workshop to the students of Welkom.
© Kaat Celis
Students practicing with the  camera.
Students practicing with the camera.
© Kaat Celis
Students having a look at Ad van Denderens photobook 'Welkom in Suid-Afrika'.
Students having a look at Ad van Denderens photobook 'Welkom in Suid-Afrika'.
© Kaat Celis
Opening of the exhibition with work of the students from three schools in Welkom.
Opening of the exhibition with work of the students from three schools in Welkom.
© Kaat Celis
Students posing with their photographs taken during the workshops.
Students posing with their photographs taken during the workshops.
© Kaat Celis
Every student gets his or her own diploma, handed out by Ad and Lebo.
Every student gets his or her own diploma, handed out by Ad and Lebo.
© Kaat Celis
Students, family, friends and teachers at the opening of the exhibition.
Students, family, friends and teachers at the opening of the exhibition.
© Kaat Celis
Proud students with their photography diploma.
Proud students with their photography diploma.
© Kaat Celis
A student with her photos, themed 'Who am I in 2017?'
A student with her photos, themed 'Who am I in 2017?'
© Kaat Celis
Ad van Denderen and some students at the exhibition.
Ad van Denderen and some students at the exhibition.
A festive Closing Party in the exhibition with of course some dancing.
A festive Closing Party in the exhibition with of course some dancing.
'I choose this photo because it makes me happy the way my little brother and my little sister like to watch the videos of Simbar Cartoons.'
'I choose this photo because it makes me happy the way my little brother and my little sister like to watch the videos of Simbar Cartoons.'
Photo: Malungane Lucas, Teto High School
'I took this picture in Manny's Bridge. Where someone was mugged under that bridge. Here is a gangster that sit here during the day. Waiting for these who walk through the bridge so they can rob their money, phone and other things. When I took this picture I was under that bridge.'
'I took this picture in Manny's Bridge. Where someone was mugged under that bridge. Here is a gangster that sit here during the day. Waiting for these who walk through the bridge so they can rob their money, phone and other things. When I took this picture I was under that bridge.'
Photo: Ngomane Collen, Teto High School
'This is my bedroom. When I am tired, I sleep and pray. It is my private room.'
'This is my bedroom. When I am tired, I sleep and pray. It is my private room.'
Photo: Modikeng Thabo, Teto High School
'This is my little brother, I just asked him to pose because I felt like I need to have a photo of him.'
'This is my little brother, I just asked him to pose because I felt like I need to have a photo of him.'
Photo: Monokoane Nthoto, Teto High School
'People might say you don't belong here, but if it makes you happy, you're exactly where you're supposed to be.
'People might say you don't belong here, but if it makes you happy, you're exactly where you're supposed to be. "Why fit in when you were born to stand out."'
Photo: Genevieve de Villiers, Goudveld Hoërskool
'The piano. This was my grandmothers (89) and she got it when she was 8. She passed it on to me when I was 8 years old.'
'The piano. This was my grandmothers (89) and she got it when she was 8. She passed it on to me when I was 8 years old.'
Photo: Jana Enslin, Goudveld Hoërskool
'This is my desk and workspace. On the wall and in the window sill are items that show who I am. They also lend character to the room, that would otherwise be bland.'
'This is my desk and workspace. On the wall and in the window sill are items that show who I am. They also lend character to the room, that would otherwise be bland.'
Photo: Robert Bristow, Welkom Gimnasium
'The goldrush in Welkom saw the birth of some mines. Some stayed and some ran dry and were shut down. They died. All that remains is their mine hills.
'The goldrush in Welkom saw the birth of some mines. Some stayed and some ran dry and were shut down. They died. All that remains is their mine hills.
Photo: Lerato Motsatse, Welkom Gimnasium

Educational program at three schools in Welkom

In the fall of 2017, Ad van Denderen and Lebo Tlali held photography workshops at three different secondary schools in Welkom: Teto High, Goudveld and Hoher Gimnasium. Lebo wanted to tell the teenagers an important message to the teenagers: art can change your perspective on reality and expands your horizon when you are in a hopeless situation. A message Lebo himself learned years ago, and that led him to study at the arts academy in Cape Town.

Their assignment: to take photographs based on the theme Who am I in 2017? The students got a glimpse into the basics of photography (shadows, composition and lining) and were motivated to crystallise their personal stories visually. The team heard some amazing stories and saw a great variety of images within the theme. What stood out was the talent, but also the bravery in topics and daring vulnerability to show themselves.

All photos of the three schools were shown at the Closing Party which marked the opening of the exhibition. It led to a remarkable moment in the history of Welkom: for the very first time in history the principals from the schools sat together and talked, and participated in a project together. Students, family and friends and the Ambassador of the Netherlands in South Africa Marisa Gerards joined the opening.

Editorial for Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, fall 2017.
Editorial for Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, fall 2017.
© Margalith Kleijwegt
Editorial for Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, fall 2017.
Editorial for Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, fall 2017.
© Margalith Kleijwegt

Blog at De Groene Amsterdammer

During the second trip to Welkom, journalist Margalith Kleijwegt keeps a blog for the Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer. Margalith joined Ad van Denderen in 1990 to carry out Ad’s photo project Welkom in Suid-Afrika. Now, 27 years later, she writes about her experiences of Welkom anno 2017. Read the blogs below (in Dutch):

9 October 2017: Waar exposeer je foto’s in een mijnstadje zonder musea?
13 October 2017: Soms rijdt de schoolbus naar Welkom niet. Te gevaarlijk.
17 October 2017: Dat theater in Welkom is indrukwekkend. Nu nog publiek.
24 October 2017: Teto Highschool lijkt vierentwintig uur per dag te draaien.
30 October 2017: Welke dokter bezoek je in Zuid-Afrika met een open wond?
3 November 2017: In Zuid-Afrika gun je elkaar de vrijheid. Ook op geloofsgebied.
8 November 2017: In Zuid-Afrika verlopen de dingen nu eenmaal wat chaotischer.

News

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In the media

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    Vista, 19 October 2017
  • Terug naar Welkom: 'Wij kennen elkaar niet.'

    Back to Welkom: 'We don't know eachother.'

    Margalith Kleijwegt, De Groene Amsterdammer, 27 April 2017 Read more »

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