Joburg Style Photo Essay, Yesterday's Heroes

Photographer Manyatsa Monyamane celebrates South Africa’s elders, the unsung heroes who paved the way for democracy today

Photography Manyatsa Monyamane | Words Sharon Preston


Manyatsa Monyamane was born and raised in Mamelodi. She describes herself as, “An artist; a storyteller through imagery, inspired and influenced by African literature, theatre and everyday surroundings.” The series of portraits shown here are bold and contemplative. “These are real people who have witnessed and experienced the transition of an entire society towards the birth of a new nation and have defined what it means to be a South African today – yet their strength has never been celebrated,” she explains. “This project focuses on capturing the essence of the timeless beauty and style of the youth of the ‘70s and earlier. It shows how they define themselves 50 years later as well as the strength that carried us through the dark days and continues to carry us to this day.

“The project was inspired by my grandparents. I wanted to celebrate them, because I felt that the younger generation doesn’t consider the knowledge they have imparted to us. We don’t let them participate, yet they fought so much for us so that we, the youth, could be where we are today. The project does not yet have a title; it’s an ongoing project and I want its name to come organically. “It’s amazing how this project is growing and taking its own direction. Since I started working on it, so many people have shown interest in connecting me with their parents or grandparents, showing that they are willing to bring these neglected stories to life.” Manyatsa found her subjects through friends and family members, and by moving around the city and townships talking to people. “Through these conversations, we established a rapport, which came in handy when they stood in front of the camera.”

The 28-year-old first started taking photographs at the age of nine, using a “point and shoot family camera”.

“The first photographs I took were of family members,” she says. She later went on to study photography. Through her colourful images she creates an archive, an historic record of themes and subject matter that are unusual and extraordinary, but that celebrate everyday life. “My love for photography sparked from my love of storytelling,” she explains. “Photography has become the vehicle to drive the stories that I want to tell.” Her work won her a place in the top 10 as well as winner of a Merit Award in the 2017 Absa L’Atelier art competition and she was also recently awarded the Lizamore & Associates Mentorship Prize. In addition, she picked up the Multi and New Media/Photography Merit Award at the 30th installment of the inaugural Thami Mnyele Art Awards. An exhibition of 16 photographs from this project was on display and for sale at the Cradle Contemporary Art Fair, at the Cradle Boutique Hotel located in the Cradle of Humankind.


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