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.
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.
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.
Welkom Today team one month in South Africa
Weekly blogs by journalist Margalith Kleijwegt30 October 2017
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...Read more
Students from Welkom photograph their lives
Another step in the Welkom Today project7 November 2017
For the photo project Welkom Today, photographers Ad van Denderen and Lebohang Tlali and team travelled back to Welkom. For six weeks, they set up an exhibition with earlier photos of the town by Ad and lead several photography workshops for students to inspire them to express themselves visually. The trip brought to life a historical and contemporary view on Welkom.Read more
Interview with Lebo Tlali on Welkom Today5 December 2017
Lebo Tlali is one of the initiators of Welkom Today, a multivocal photography project about the South African town Welkom. Together with Dutch photographer Ad van Denderen, he is carrying out this project for the upcoming years. The latest steps in the project were a pop-up exhibition with work by Ad and several photography workshops with students of...Read more
In the media
Hoe een Nederlandse fotograaf Zuid-Afrikaanse kinderen wil leren over de apartheid
How a Dutch photographer wants to teach South-African children about apartheidRead more »
Photography project invests in leaners
Terug naar Welkom: 'Wij kennen elkaar niet.'
Back to Welkom: 'We don't know eachother.'Read more »