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

Interview

In 1991, Remmelt Lukkien visited Ad van Denderen at his home to speak to him about his Welkom project.

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