Photographing KwaZulu-Natal

This article was published in the December 2011 issue of Umlando which is the heritage publication of Ethekwini Municipality, to coincide with the showing of my exhibition ‘Convergence’ at the KwaMuhle Museum, which falls under the municipality. Follows:

The exhibition ‘Convergence’ consists of two bodies of work from my photographic career; ‘The Hidden Years’ and ‘In Camera’. ‘The Hidden Years’, consists of a series of images which show aspects of society in KwaZulu-Natal, which I felt was ignored or given little attention. The exhibition was shown at the KwaMuhle Museum in 1995, and the entire show was acquired by the museum at the time. It has been my great pleasure to have this work in KwaMuhle’s collection since it has been given exceptional exposure through the museum.

‘In Camera’ was produced in conjunction with the Apartheid Archive Study Project (www.apartheidarchive.org) in 2009, and looks at South African society, focusing particularly on KwaZulu-Natal and elements of apartheid which continue to manifest in our society to this day.

 

When ‘In Camera’ showed at the Albert Luthuli Museum in 2010, KwaMuhle subsequently asked if they could also show the body of work. Robert Luyt from KwaMuhle then suggested that, since it seemed similar in theme to ‘The Hidden Years’, the two exhibition’s be shown in conjunction with each other – to which I agreed, hence the title ‘Convergence’. However, the exhibition’s title also refers to negative convergences, such as the many social issues and developments which have arisen as a result of globalization, poverty, the widening gap between the rich and poor, racism, the power of elites and corporate influence in government. At the same time, ‘Convergence’ is also a positive title, referring to the potential for heightened awareness as various sectors of society try to find each other and ‘converge’ around issues that unite and overcome divisions.

 

Both these projects were made in KwaZulu-Natal, but they refer to issues of national concern, in this way, the province becomes symbolic of the entire country. KwaZulu is also, however, the province of my birth and the place where I spent my formative years, and it is a place with which I identify closely. I am a fourth generation descendent of white ‘trans-frontier men’ and black women native to the region. Importantly for me, these immigrant men came not as colonists, but instead chose to largely integrate with the society in which they settled. My great-grand parent families are the Mabaso’s and the Nicholson’s who lived in the Nongoma region, the Mhlanga’s and the Louw’s (Piet Louw and his brother Dawid both emigrated from Amsterdam, Holland and settled in the Ceza region), the Mgenge’s and the Dunn’s, the Xulu’s and the Nunn’s.

 

Much has been written about John Dunn, though he is largely seen as a traitor to Cetshwayo, which is how I viewed him for a long time. I see now, however, that he was loyal to King Mpande and his chosen heir Prince Mbuyazi, defending him when he was attacked and defeated by his half-brother Cetshwayo, who, through force seized the crown. Dunn, who went on to be Cetshwayo’s advisor, lived in the coastal region close to the Thugela river.

 

Nunn originally lived in north-western Zululand and was resident trader to Prince Hamu KaNzibe, also half-brother to Cetshway and Mbuyazi. When Dinizulu defeated Hamu with the aid of Boer volunteers in the civil war of 1880-1884, north-western Zululand was ceded to the Boers as their reward, which they proclaimed the Boer Republic. Nunn lost his 6 000 acres farm which comprised of part of the Ngome forests close to present day Vryheid, and all his possessions. He died shortly afterwards and his family moved to north-eastern Zululand where they were given sanctuary as refugees by their ally Chief Zibhebhu of the Mandlakazi tribe.

 

I grew up in Hluhluwe and Inhlwati, attending school in Mangete in the Mandeni area. When I was expelled from Little Flower in iXopo High school for a minor misdemeanor, I started work at age 16 in Amatikulu sugar mill and worked there for eight years before leaving to become a photographer.

 

These eight years were instrumental in educating me about the harsh realities of segregation, unequal development and inequality. I joined the fledgling workers movement, went on strike and learned about worker solidarity. Most of my working life in photography took place in Johannesburg, with a great deal of traveling in the region and further afield. I was a member of the Afrapix collective and agency, and bore witness to the turbulence of that era. I have recently I have returned to KZN and live in the Byrne Valley with my partner and child.

 

My mid-career retrospective ‘Call and Response’ opens in September at Museum Africa in Johannesburg, and will be accompanied by a book by the same name.

 

Cedric Nunn

 

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